What Happens When You Pay Attention to Your Breathing

What Happens When You Pay Attention to Your Breathing

A lot, as it turns out.

If you’re human—or any other living organism, for that matter—breathing is habitual. No news there. While breathing as a bodily function has obvious benefits, you may not be aware of the profound healing effects breathwork—the conscious practice of altering your breathing patterns to release blockages within the energetic body—has on calming the nervous system and nourishing your cells.

A typical breathwork healing session will last 30 to 45 minutes, and can be done in either a group or a private setting. The practitioner will lead you through a deep-breathing pattern, which can involve breathing into a certain area of the body or a chakra. For example, one technique involves inhaling deeply into the belly, then exhaling through the chest to keep the energy flowing and open the heart. Students may feel a tingling sensation in their fingers or toes, or they may feel a sense of deep emotional release.

Where the breath goes, the mind follows. If your breath is shallow and short, it could indicate an anxious, negative thought pattern. Slowing the breath down to accommodate longer inhales and exhales helps to slow the mind down, which will ultimately lead to greater clarity and an expanded consciousness.

We caught up with two breathwork teachers to find out more about the benefits of this ancient practice and how it can change your life:

1. Healing from addictions or unhealthy habits

Breathwork teacher and founder of Pushing Beauty Michelle D’Avella says that the practice is one of the most effective ways of breaking free from addictive behaviors or habits like overeating. “A lot of breathwork teachers are teaching in addiction recovery centers, which is so incredible and so necessary. Breathwork is a great tool for addictions because it allows us a safe space to face the pain we’re avoiding through our addiction, so we don’t have to use that outside substance to fill ourselves up,” she says. By changing the breath, we change our thoughts, so engaging in an active breathing exercise can help us to let go of the thinking pattern that’s contributed to creating an addiction in the first place.

2. Strengthening relationships

D’Avella says that through breathwork, we can learn to understand our triggers and why we do the things we do in our relationships, which in many cases is the first step towards healing. “Using the breath in a session, you’ll gain deeper clarity around the issues that are happening, and you’ll start to go more to the root, which really helps to facilitate the healing process for yourself and for the relationship,” she says.

3. Cultivating self-love

The most important relationship you’ll ever maintain is the one you have with yourself, and many spiritual traditions teach that loving the true self is the ultimate key to healing. D’Avella says that through breathwork, the practitioner can begin to know and love their true self, the one deep down inside who knows all the answers intuitively. “The biggest thing this work leads to is self-love, which is really a fundamental issue that so many people are struggling with today. Your heart will open, and you’ll have an experience of what it really means to love yourself,” she says. Using the breath to release the thinking mind allows us to tap into our authentic selves and realize that we’re more than our mistakes, our fears, or our worries.

4. Gaining perspective

Luke Simon, a breathwork teacher at Maha Rose Center for Healing in New York City, says that for his clients, gaining a new perspective on life is one of the most valuable gifts the practice has to give. “We get so stuck in our heads, and we’re stuck in our stress and our pain and our stories, and we’re just stuck. Breathwork really gives you the feeling that we’re part of something bigger,” Simon says. “When you focus on the breath, you realize we’re all ultimately breathing the same air, which really puts things in perspective.”

5. Improved focus

Whether you’re gearing up for a job interview or a big presentation at work, Simon says that through mindfulness and relaxation, breathwork can help us release brain fog and get into gear for the things that matter most. “Most of us can’t afford to go into panic mode and deplete our performance. We perform at our best when we’re relaxed, not when we’re tight and holding the breath,” he says. “You’re bringing more awareness to the breath, which really helps with getting clear and present, and moving away from the flight-or-fight response.”

To get started with a breathwork practice, check out Pushing Beauty or Simon’s guided video session for a simple beginner sequence you can try at home.

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