Breathe. Exhale. Repeat: The Benefits of Controlled Breathing

E.B. Wexler, LCSW-C, RYT 200

We take breathing for granted, but the breath can be a great ally in health and wellness, as well as healing.  Conscious breathing, referred to in yoga as part of pranayama, is a tool that anyone can use any time to calm the nervous system, reduce our negative responses to stress, and has many benefits to our long-term health.

When we feel stressed, our breath is usually shallow and high, in our chest.  This actually sends a signal to the brain to keep the sympathetic nervous system--the fight-or-flight response--activated.  This can increase our heart rate, our body temperature, our blood pressure, and more.  If the signal is ongoing, the sympathetic nervous system stays activated.

The good news is that by consciously slowing down and deepening the breath, breathing from the diaphragm, that signal to the brain can be changed to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.  This sends the message that all is well, it is safe, and the fight-or-flight turns off.

There are many techniques for conscious breathing, and it needs to be practiced regularly to have an ongoing benefits. This piece in the New York Times talks about some of the research currently being done in this area.