Breathwork and Mental Health

Breathwork and Mental Health

“Breathing isn’t only essential to keep us alive, it also impacts our emotions, attention, and how our brains process the world around us.” Neuroscience News, Nov. 2022

Why is breath so important? The most obvious reason is it keeps us alive.  It is our life force, our prana, our chi and without it, we would not be in this world of “form”. The next important aspect of breath is the direct link to the nervous system and the proper functioning of the brain. The brain, being the master organ/master gland, directs the beautiful symphony of the bodily systems that work together in harmony. 

Recent studies have focused on the effect of our breathing and the influence on the “brain’s expectations”. We are more sensitive to the outside world when we are breathing in, whereas the brain tunes out more when we breathe out. The rhthym and the attention on the breath impacts our emotions, our attention and how we process the outside world. When we breathe deep, the body releases endorphins which is the “feel good” hormone in the body. When we limit the breath, have restricted breath due to stress and high emotion, we tend to have lower energy, lower mental clarity, and tend to be more irritable. When short shallow breathing is in play, the body’s nervous system switches to a “fight or flight” mode. In this survival mode, the body becomes tense,  the breath is short and the chest gets restricted to self protect and the hip flexors tense to get the body out of danger and prepere to run. Keeping in mind that the body responds the same between clear and imminent danger and emotional and mental danger. The body reacts the same in both occasions. 

The foundation of all yoga and meditation practices is with the breath. Whether we are in sitting meditation or moving our body in a Hatha Yoga class, the attention is constantly on the breath. This breath awareness not only helps us stay present, but I also helps to keep our attention sharp and focused. The attention on the exact task at hand which in meditation is to follow the breath and in yoga to feel the breath while simultaneously moving into a pose. Other studies on the brain’s of meditators have shown that people who practice meditation tend to bounce back easier and quicker from stressful situations. 

So taking a step back, the picture becomes clearer and seems to connect. Researchers have found that “difficulty breathing is associated with a very large increase in the risk for mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. They know that respiration, respiratory illness, and psychiatric disorders are closely linked. The research has helped reveal that understanding how breathing shapes our brain, and by extension our mood, thoughts and behaviors is an important goal in order to better prevent and treat mental illness. 

If you haven’t already, begin a meditation and yoga practice and embrace the breathwork that comes along with each of your sessions. Your body and your mind will love you for it!

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