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  • Writer's pictureDana Watts

Breath Is Life - How to Breathe Mindfully

Updated: Apr 14, 2023



You know how to breathe.


Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale...


You have been doing it for years. You have been breathing as far back as you remember. In fact, even if you don’t remember to breathe, you just breathe. You can do it standing on one foot, you can do it with your eyes closed, you can do it while you do everything you do, day in and day out. You know how to breathe without thinking about it. It just happens, automatically and reflexively. Perhaps that is the reason why so many of us breathe the wrong way, myself included.


But how can breathing be wrong?


Let’s do a little experiment:


Sit on your couch in a way that is most comfortable for you. For most of us it’s slumped over watching a show, scrolling social media, working on the computer. Observe how that posture affects your breathing: as you inhale, notice that you take small breaths that just move your chest. Occasionally, you inhale as though you need to catch your breath, and your back and shoulders rise to take in more air. This is typical of shallow breathing.


Now sit up straight, with a cushion behind your lower back so you have good posture. Notice how your breath has moved deeper into your abdomen and belly. Each inhale and each exhale is steady and rhythmical. You don’t need to take those jagged deep breaths. Your breathing is calm and relaxed, sending the optimum amount of oxygen to your lungs and brain and expelling the correct amount of carbon dioxide. You are in a state of balance.

Perhaps you feel puzzled and wonder, "what’s the big deal, what’s the difference? It’s pretty much the same thing." But, that little difference makes all the difference! It turns out that slow breathing that reaches down to your belly is associated with a whole host of physical, psychological, and cognitive benefits. It lowers your blood pressure and heart rate and helps you shift into a state of calm and relaxation. It reduces anxiety, stress, and frustration. It helps you sleep better and more restfully. It helps your immune system do its job - protect you from endless pathogens, so you can stay healthy. It helps you think more clearly because the steady supply of oxygen in your blood stream fuels your brain. In short, it helps all systems in your body function at optimum levels.


Our body seeks homeostasis, the state of balance where all internal systems are maintained within a narrow band of functioning. The brain monitors systems throughout the body to maintain these optimum levels. For example, normal levels of oxygen in the blood are maintained at above 95%. If the blood oxygen level goes down to 88%, you need to head to the nearest emergency room, according to the Cleveland Clinic. That is only a 7 point variation from normal to emergency. Not a whole lot of wiggle room!





Slow, deep breathing is balanced breathing that helps your maintain that state of homeostasis.






The good thing about balanced breathing is that it’s not hard to achieve. Unfortunately, often people have misconceptions that hinder them from developing good breathing habits. Clients tell me frequently that they don’t have time for breathing exercises because they are too busy. They describe cumbersome techniques that they tried but could not sustain. They often feel intimidated by detailed directions for the “correct” way to practice breathing or overwhelmed by the length of time required of them to commit to this activity. Many clients have told me quite firmly that they have tried breathing exercises and they don't work for them.


The problem arises when we think of breathing as an activity that we must take time out of our day to engage in. Then it becomes a chore, another thing to add to an endless list of "must do" things. Sure, if you plan to become a master yogi or a Tibetan monk you will need to practice specific technique for breathing, and you must do that for many years. But for the rest of us who want to optimize our health and functioning, we need something that is more seamlessly integrated into our day, times when we can add boosts of mindful breathing one minute at a time. And let's face it, we can all find random minutes that we can spend breathing mindfully: that minute waiting for the coffee to brew, or for the dog to pee, or for the light to change, or for customer service to answer the phone. That's just what came to mind for me from experiences I had today. I am sure that you have your own random minutes of waiting. I challenge you to find those one minute times in your day when you can focus on your breathing. Start with finding 5. And you know what you will discover? That you feel so much more relaxed and peaceful that you will want to find more of those random minutes to fill with mindful breathing.



60 Second Breathing/Relaxation Exercise


Sit with good posture in a comfortable chair Inhale and exhale slowly as you say, aloud or in your mind, each of the following phrases:


Breathe In Breathe Out


I AM……………………………………………………RELAXED


I BREATHE…………………………………………… SLOWLY AND DEEPLY


MY ARMS AND LEGS………………………………..ARE HEAVY AND WARM


MY STOMACH…………………………………………IS RELAXED


MY HEARTBEAT………………………………………IS EVEN


MY THOUGHTS………………………………………...FLOAT BY LIKE CLOUDS


MY MIND……………………………………………… IS QUIET AND CALM


MY BREATH…………………………………………… IS SLOW AND DEEP

Repeat this sequence as many times as you wish or are able. Find ‘down’ times in your day and do this 60-Second Relaxation Exercise to reduce your stress and increase your overall well-being.




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