Breath Awareness: a Powerful Tool to Bridge the Body and Mind

The quality of your breathing is said to be a reflection of the quality of your mind. 

Becoming aware of our breath has been shown to engage our parasympathetic nervous system or “rest and digest” system (see previous article). This immediately calms our stress response. This happens just by noticing it, without even trying to change it. We call this breath awareness. 

There are many aspects of breathing that we can pay attention to. We invite you to try this little experiment: 

Sitting in a comfortable position, perhaps on a chair with your feet flat on the ground, softening your gaze of even closing your eyes if you’re comfortable with this. Begin to notice your breath. Notice the sound it makes. Notice the temperature of the air coming in and out. Are you breathing fast or slow? Try comparing the length of each inhale to the length of each exhale. Just allow yourself to become the observer. Notice the sensations that the breath creates in your body. Where can you feel the breath within your body? When you are ready, begin to slowly open your eyes if they were closed. Notice how you feel after this short exercise. Has your breathing changed compared to the beginning? 

Controlling our reaction to stress

Tuning into our breath can be an easy, quick and effective way to directly examine our current state. Learning to become aware of our breath at any given time can be a powerful tool in managing pain, stress, anxiety and depression. It is the key to unlocking our ability to control how our body responds to stress. 

Next time you get in your car, try taking a few seconds to pay attention to your breath before driving off. Notice how you’re breathing when you exercise and how it may change automatically as you change your level of effort. Notice how you breathe at work, or how you breathe when you’re very focused. Notice how you breathe when angry or frustrated. Notice how you breathe when you’re exited! Notice how your breath changes when thinking about a negative or unpleasant experience, or conversely, when you’re thinking about something joyful or positive. Just noticing it gives your body the chance to adjust your breathing to the real energetic demands and let go of any thoughts, emotions or physical sensations that may be holding you back. 

Try this out and stay tuned for our next article where we discuss other breathing techniques for you to try out! 

Intro : Dare to Breathe
1. The Diaphragm: Life and Breath
2. Breath: Supply and Demand
3. Breathing and Joint Mobility
4. The Diaphragm: A Web of Connection
5. Breath and Emotion
6. How Stress Can Change Our Breath
7. Breath Awareness: a Powerful Tool to Bridge the Body and Mind
8. Breath Regulation: Empower Yourself!
9. Mindfulness and Meditation: the Power of Awareness
10. Yoga: Transforming the Body and Mind

Prosko, S. (2019). Breathing and Pranayama in Pain Care. In: Pearson N, Prosko S, Sullivan M (Eds). Yoga and Science in Pain Care: Treating the Person in Pain. London, Uk: Singing Dragon Publishers; pp. 140-156.