Notice how your breathing is like right now.
Is it short and shallow? Does it feel restricted or blocked? Does it only reach your upper chest and no further? Did you notice that you were holding onto your breath?
The quality of your breath in each moment can tell you a lot about how you are feeling. Because of our mind-body connection, our breath is a reflection of our body’s inner state. Whenever we are calm, open, at ease, our breath flows effortlessly in and out, deeply and smoothly. It’s no coincidence that anxiety and panic attacks result in hyperventilation where the breath is contracted and the person is left feeling as if they cannot breathe.
You can find this in the expressions we use about our breath:-
To breathe fire when you’re angry.
To feel like someone is breathing down your neck when you feel managed or controlled.
To breathe a sigh of relief after something potentially awful has been averted.
To want breathing space when in need of rest between stressful periods.
We hold our breath when we’re awaiting something exciting or nerve wracking to happen and our breath can be taken away by things both spectacularly beautiful or devastatingly upsetting.
Most of the time, we are so caught up with doing, we don’t even have time to notice how we feel about situations. By the time we notice we don’t feel good about where we find ourselves, it’s usually because we've reacted negatively to it. Through observing what your breath is like from time to time, it can help you become more aware of how you are feeling about the environment around you.
If you find yourself holding your breath as you step into work each day, only to breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the day, what might that be telling you about how you feel about your work environment?
What might noticing that your breath is caught in your chest mean for you in whenever you encounter a particular person?
Similarly, the breath influences the way our bodies feel. There is wisdom (and science) to the way breathing patterns can cause us to feel either anxious or calm. Engaging in deep or diaphragmatic breathing triggers neural circuits to ‘switch on’ our mind’s relaxation response. So whether it’s to elicit a sense of calm in the midst of a hectic day or just wanting to gauge how we feel about a particular situation, try listening to your breath to determine what your body is telling you it needs.
Is it to slow down your pace, pause, and breathe in to yourself and your surroundings?
Or is it to breathe out whatever you’re holding onto (whether it’s your breath or certain problems) and release?
Interested in finding out more? Check out the below links to learn more about the connection between your breath and emotional health:
Harvard Health: Breathing and relaxation techniques
Breathe Body Mind: Resources on integrative medicine and techniques on improving mental and physical health
The Free Mindfulness Project: Guided meditations and other resources on the breath and mindfulness