How many hours, days, months, or years at a time do you let pass by without ever really being aware that you are breathing? Sure, you might be conscious of the fact that your breath is what keeps you alive, and you are grateful for that – but are you aware of the breath itself?
Being mindful of your breathing does more than merely keep you alive. Mindful breathing enables you to live a longer, healthier, and fuller life.
Mindful breathing lowers your heart rate and blood pressure
Stress and anxiety are two major causes for spikes in one’s heart rate and blood pressure. Not to mention shortness of breath and other uncomfortable symptoms that take a toll on your health. Stress is a physical body response intended to help you in certain situations, but when you experience more stress than is needed, it hurts you more than it helps.
Your breathing is linked to your mental functions, and when you practice mindful breathing, it helps bring you out of this heightened state of alertness that stress causes – also known as your “fight or flight” response. Conscious breathing helps signal relaxation by stimulating your vagus nerve, a cranial nerve that carries signals between your organs and your brain.
Your vagus nerve is a part of your parasympathetic nervous system, and when you trigger this system, whether through deep breathing or changing the rhythm of your breath, you move into “rest and digest” mode. In other words, your breathing calms you down and brings your heart rate and blood pressure down with it.
Mindful breathing helps you manage chronic pain
Research shows that by focusing on relaxing the body and noticing the breath, one can better manage their pain. In one 2015 study, the brain images of participants dealing with chronic pain and practicing mindfulness regularly to treat it displayed less activation in the parts of their brain that manage pain messages.
Just as mindful breathing can help people accept their painful emotions and experiences, it also helps them sit with the uncomfortable sensations of pain. Mindful breathing can help people with chronic pain experience less worrisome and negative thoughts surrounding what they feel, causing them to feel it less intensely.
Mindful breathing promotes a better quality of life
Mindful breathing helps support a better quality of life by encouraging healthy emotional regulation and, well, mindfulness. When you take time to slow down and focus on your breathing, the awareness you cultivate helps bring more attention to your thoughts.
You must tune into your thoughts before you can control them, just as you must become aware of the breath before you can control it. When you foster awareness of your breath, it enables you to slow down enough to promote a newfound awareness of your emotions and thoughts. Over time, a consistent mindful breathing practice can help you be more conscientious of your thoughts so you can break unhealthy thought patterns and consciously choose thoughts and behaviours that serve your best interest.
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