One reason that we are a society full of stressed, ill and unhappy individuals is that we don’t breathe deeply enough.
Shallow breathing deprives our cells of the oxygen they need to repair themselves, rejuvenate and create new cells. If we breath this way for too long, or too often (as most people do), our bodies become weaker, less resistant to disease; we age faster than we need to, and our brains have to work on a fraction of the energy they really need. As if that’s not bad enough, shallow breathing keeps our bodies and minds in chronic anxiety mode, so we are more irritable, nervous, anxious and less able to think clearly.
I was reminded of this last week when I was having trouble at the airport. I was already anxious because I was running late, so I became more irritated than usual with the problems at check-in, and I couldn’t quite figure out what the man behind the counter was trying to tell me. So I stopped for a moment, just a few seconds really, to register what was happening inside me. Fast, shallow breathing; agitation; anger; the beginnings of panic because I thought I’d miss the plane; muscles tensed and thoughts running wild.
Fortunately, I practice Qi Gong and Yoga, so I immediately recognised what was happening. My breath was creating a whole cascade of effects in my body and mind, and I was responding to those effects more than to the situation at hand. The moment I turned my attention to my breath, it slowed down, and within mini-seconds, I was breathing slowly, deeply and relaxing. Now all of this internal stuff took place in a fraction of time. Our minds are capable of thinking much faster than we think. For me, there was an internal process that seemed to take time: stop, observe what’s happening inside and change my responses. The man at the counter no doubt noticed only a sudden switch from stressed to calm. The problem was settled in seconds, and I was on my way, laughing to myself over my earlier distress.
That’s the power of breath. The moment we become aware of it, it seems to open up time. It gives us those micro-seconds in which to recognise the error in our reactions, and to choose to react differently. It can make the difference between saying those nasty words, or making that rash decision and choosing to act differently. Becoming more aware of our breathing, we also breathe better, which is good for our cells, our health and our brains.