The Key to Slowing Down? Mindful, Controlled Breathing.

We’re a culture of shallow breathers.
If I were to take a guess, I would say you are almost completely shallow.

I mean, do you actually remember the last time you filled your lungs and your belly with fresh air, and then slowly let the whole lot out again?

Maybe it was this morning during yoga, while admiring your first coffee, or when you first woke up. Perhaps it was last weekend when you finally got to relax during a massage. Maybe it was last month when you sat down to meditate. Or perhaps you don’t remember.

Shallow friend, you’re definitely not alone

In fact, we’re a culture of shallow breathers. “We’re a very stressed society that is experiencing chronic fight-or-flight response most of the time, which leads to short and shallow breathing,” says Tom Cronin, Sydney-based meditation teacher. “The World Health Organisation calls this the epidemic of the 21st century.”

We can go for weeks, months, or sometimes years barely paying any attention to something so critical to our health and wellbeing (and survival… just a thought). All because it’s an easy, automatic reaction that we don’t need to control.

Or do we?

Without mindfulness around our breathing, we’re likely to only ever breathe erratically in and out of our lungs. So yes, we do completely need to control our breathing. Not aggressively or with excessive coercion, simply consciously and regularly.

Breathing is one of the most unique functions our bodies perform

It works automatically, speeding up when we need to move or think quickly, and slowing down when relaxing or sleeping. But it can also be voluntarily controlled, unlike most other automatic functions. We are able to slow it down when we need to… which is one of the most genius features of our whole physically intricate system.

So why the need for control, you ask?

Excellent question.

Over the last few generations, our breathing has become increasingly shallow. Our lifestyles are fast, our jobs are stressful, and the pressure we place on ourselves can be wildly overwhelming. This mild (on a good day) anxiety causes us to constrict our breathing. With each teeny tiny breath, we’re basically strengthening our sympathetic nervous system, keeping us in fight-or-flight mode, all day, every day.

And that’s no good for anyone.

Chronic stress is a vicious, perpetual cycle that can cause high blood pressure, a weaker immune system, anxiety and depression. Resting used to be a source of deep breathing when the body could finally fill up and let it all out. But these days we rarely properly rest. Sure we put our feet up, hit a local café or go for a walk, but our addiction to screens means we usually have our little smartphone friend with us, which takes our breathing straight back to Shallowville.

If we want to give our health and happiness the best chance of thriving, we genuinely need to start paying attention (and putting our phones away for longer periods). “The way we breathe has a big effect on our lives in so many ways,” says Tom. “For something that is our life force, it’s time we gave it more attention and retrain ourselves how to breathe properly.”

Finding zen through the breath

“There are two approaches: Deepen and slow your breathing, and you’ll experience a more relaxed state in the mind and body. This leads to better energy, vitality and virility,” says Tom. “The other way to look at this is to create a relaxed state in the body using meditation and your breathing will naturally become slower and deeper. Either way, the results are the same: More calm, deeper breaths, more energy and better health.”

Every day, try this simple exercise: Breathe in for four to six seconds, hold for four seconds, then breathe out for eight seconds. Repeat until you feel your whole body relax. Practice this exercise every morning before you start your day, and come back to it whenever you feel stressed or anxious. Don’t forget to gently fill your belly and expand your ribs before you let it all out.

Every day, try this simple exercise: Breathe in for four to six seconds, hold for four seconds, then breathe out for eight seconds.

“Meditation helps because it leads to a shift from sympathetic nervous system state to parasympathetic nervous system state. This will naturally change your breathing,” says Tom.

It may take one deep breath into your belly and diaphragm to rediscover how good a deep breath feels all through your body. Or it may take some time as you re-train your muscles to let loose. Either way, it’s an important exercise that will change the way your body works, the way you think, and how you feel.

Whether you start with conscious breathing moments throughout your day, or find a yoga, tai chi or meditation practice that naturally slows down your breathing for you, you won’t be so shallow for long.

About the author

Kris Franken is a soul-led wordsmith, highly intuitive writer and editor, untamable foodie and wholehearted mama. She adores tree hugging, salted caramel, green tea, meditation and yoga, and laughs like it’s a competitive sport.

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