“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” ~Amit Ray
Breathing is an unconscious reaction to being alive. It is something we do as much as 30,000 times a day without taking a moment to consider its importance. We take for granted the steady in and out of our breath and whilst it remains constant we simply plod along with our day.
When our breathing becomes interrupted or exaggerated, it is a clear sign that our body and our mind are in distress. When we are scared, anxious or in pain, our breathing accelerates, which causes us to lose track of ourselves in that moment. The feeling leads you to wish for nothing more than your slow, steady breath again. Once the moment passes, however, we are prone to returning to normal without a momentary thought about how we could prevent the situation from happening again.
If we did take the time to ask the question the answer would be found in our ability to control our breathing. For centuries those who practice Buddhism, Hinduism and Yoga have been preaching the value of controlling our lungs. They teach that being able to control this vital function gives us the power over our own thoughts and feelings. We can reach a calmer and happier state of existence as we take the time to understand the link between our bodies and minds as a natural pairing, rather than polar opposites.
This ancient wisdom relies on more than anecdotal evidence. A study was undertaken by Dr. Pierre Philippot from the Universite de Louvain, in an attempt to investigate the link between emotion and breathing. The participants of the study were split into two separate groups and asked to undertake two different tasks.
The first group was asked to bring on the feelings of panic, anger, calmness and happiness by only changing their breathing pattern and write down how they did it. The strength of the results surprised Dr. Philippot’s team. Every single participant used the same breathing pattern to elicit each emotion:
Panic – short, sharp breaths
Anger – long forced breaths
Calmness – slow, steady breaths
Happiness – long inhalations and long exhalations
The first group showed the connection between the emotion and the breathing pattern, as well as the universality of the correlation in a range of people. The second group was asked to follow the breathing patterns that the previous group had uncovered, and after 45 minutes write down the emotion they felt whilst breathing in that manner. With no prior knowledge of the other group’s results, the second group experienced feelings that matched up perfectly with the participants in the first group simply by mirroring their breathing. The link between breathing patterns and emotions had become scientific truth.
With this new found knowledge it becomes possible to handle difficult emotions by altering the way you breathe. During moments in life when negative emotions, such as fear, anger, and anxiety, become overwhelming, an alteration in the pace and severity of breath intakes can have a profound effect on your emotional well-being.
Taking the time to understand the way your body and mind are linked through respiration is at the heart of reinforcing and maintaining a positive life. There are a multitude of breathing exercises that you can try to improve your emotional health, from meditation to yoga. However, learning how to take slow, deep breaths even in the midst of a crisis should always be the aim.
To begin learning how to do this, you must first alter your perception of breathing. Do not consider breathing a dull automatic process. Reframe breathing to be evidence that you are alive, and that life is a miracle. Inhaling and exhaling are only natural processes to the living, and you should celebrate that fact that you are alive every day. When your breathing is at its most relaxed it is evidence that you are happy and healthy, remember the feeling as a point of reference which you would wish to return to when your breathing is affected by negative emotions.