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Stories

The Healing Power of the Breath

SCRABBLE tiles spelling "BREATHE"Breath and the way we breathe is pivotal and important to our very lives. Our breath was the first gift we were given at birth.

Many of us think of breathing as something we do without thinking. We are not aware that the proper utilization of our breath will reduce stress, anxiety and all the illnesses that come with stress.

How do babies breathe? Their bellies rise on the in-breath and fall on the out-breath. However, by the time we are two years old, our breathing habits change based on the experiences and traumas, large or small, which we experience as children.

To be clear, it is the diaphragm, which is attached to the belly, that rises and expands on the in-breath and falls/contracts on the out-breath. It is the diaphragm that breathes for us and it is the diaphragm we can get to know and understand better.

If we are using our chest muscles to breathe, or, if we are open mouth breathers and/or are breathing too fast, we may not be feeling good. By examining the way we breathe, we can feel better. We may not be using our diaphragm to breathe.

If we are using our chest muscles to breathe, or, if we are open mouth breathers and/or are breathing too fast, we may not be feeling good.

If we are able, we are better off breathing through the nose rather than the mouth. Nose breathing filters out air pollution and activates nitric oxide allowing oxygen into the lungs more efficiently. Studies have shown that nose breathing is more likely to bring calmness while mouth breathing can lead to a fight or flight reaction.

We all could benefit from paying attention to the way we breathe. From the diaphragm, a long, slow in-breath stimulates our energy-stress response system, a long, even slower out-breath activates our soothing-relaxing-bonding system. Breathing this way keeps our nervous system in balance, thereby releasing just the right hormones we need in our daily lives and giving us enough energy and good health throughout the day.

A long, slow out-breath can be a welcome addition to our daily routine. Let us all pay attention to how we are breathing, especially to the out-breath.

Carol McConnell is a certified Breath-Body-Mind Coach through Richard Brown, MD and Patricia Gerbarg, MD. She has a private practice in Greenfield. She also teaches at the Shelburne Falls Senior Center and the Greenfield YMCA. She can be reached at 413-834-4930.