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5 benefits of being aware when you inhale and exhale

habits somatic coach yoga Jul 15, 2022

What's one body function that is always with us, our constant, our friend? Breath. Although breath happens without us having to really think about it and without requiring our conscious attention, it is one body system that we can consciously alter by bringing our awareness to it. This is good news. Here are 5 benefits to developing your awareness of breath.

1. Reduce stress and anxiety

Have you ever noticed that your breath becomes shallower when you feel anxious or stressed? Shallow breathing happens in the chest, whereas the lungs are quite a large organ and come right down underneath the rib cage, much further down. This automatic response to stress might be useful in the short term but can turn into a habit that is not so useful if we do it all the time.

If we can notice our shallow breathing, then we can drop our breath further down into the body and breath more fully. To inhale deeply is to allow the belly to expand as you breath in and the belly to lower as you exhale. The myth of the 'flat belly is better' can at times stop us from letting the belly relax and preventing the diaphragm to work effectively. Constantly holding the belly in is a habit that will need some relaxing to allow deep belly breathing. This kind of breathing is your instant access to soothing the nervous system and bringing yourself into this present moment.

2. Being present and not letting life just pass you by

Being present is its own reward. When you are present, life doesn't just pass you by. You get to experience all of life fully in all of its nuances and flavours. When you place your attention on your breath, you are bringing yourself into the present. This is because breath is a 'now' phenomenon. The only time breath is happening is now. It's not happening later sometime in the future. It's not happening in the past. It's happening right now, wherever you are. 

3. Warming up the body

It has been told that there are monks in the Himalayas whose practice is to sit in the snow wearing only their loincloth. They are then covered in three wet blankets. Their practice is to dry out the blankets by generating heat in the body using advanced yogic breathing techniques.

Try this: place your attention on the tip of your nose, and observe your breath as it comes in and out of your body. Notice as you inhale that the breath is cooling and as you exhale, the breath is warming. Another useful insight. When cold, you can extend your exhalations and start to warm the body. If you practice ujjayi breathing where you gently constrict the glottis at the back of the throat you will start to generate even more heat in the body. Imagine it like a turbo-charge.

4. Train your brain to focus

Breath can also be your drishti, or your focus point. When we give the brain something to focus on, a job to do such as observing your breath in and out of your body, we can allow the physical body to start to relax. 

5. Let the good stuff in

Have you ever been acknowledged or appreciated by someone and found yourself shutting down, resisting their words, or deflecting what they have said? When someone expresses their love for you or tells you all the qualities they like about you, it can take something to let that in. Often what it takes, is to breathe and let it in. It requires an expansion of your being to receive acknowledgment and becoming a bigger person who interrupts all the strategies we have for keeping ourselves small.

Breath is your access to reducing stress and anxiety, not letting life just pass you by, training the brain to focus, warming your body in the colder months and becoming a bigger person who can let the good stuff in. How cool is that?




Image credit: Zara Lawson

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