The Positive Impact of Mindful Breathing
Take a deep breath.
We’ve all received this advice before, or maybe we’ve given it ourselves. We all know taking a few deep breaths can actually help us feel better. But why do we wait until we’re completely overwhelmed before we start focusing on our breathing?
Plum Village, the mindfulness practice center founded by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, describes breathing as “a stable solid ground that we can take refuge in … Whenever we feel carried away, sunken in a deep emotion, or scattered in worries and projects, we return to our breathing to collect and anchor our mind.”
Breathing is more than just a tool for meditation. Mindful breathing can do wonders for both our mental and physical health:
Benefits of Breathing
- A 2005 Harvard study found that controlled breathing during meditation stimulates brain growth, increasing cortical thickness.
- A 2007 study in the journal Teaching and Learning in Medicine showed that deep breathing meditation helps reduce stress and anxiety. Students who meditated before an exam reported “perceiving less anxiety, self doubt, and concentration loss.”
- Deep breathing can help reduce the rid of heart attack. In 2012, researchers found that “non-yogic deep breathing practices” improve heart rate variability — the interval between heartbeats.
- The National Institutes of Health reports that by focusing on taking slow, deep breaths for even just a few minutes a day, individuals can relax while simultaneously lowering their blood pressure.
“Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing,” translated by Thich Nhat Hanh from the Buddhist text “Anapanasati Sutta,” is one of the most important sutras in the Plum Village tradition. The text outlines techniques for reaching a state of mindfulness through breathing.
Sama Vritti, meaning “even breath,” is a breathing exercise encouraging relaxation and focus. Start by inhaling for four counts, then hold for two. Next, exhale for four counts before holding for two again. Repeat the cycle for 10 rounds, breathing with your stomach rather than your chest. The key is to be mindful of each breath and focus on just your body and your breathing for a few minutes.
Too often, anything relating to meditation is disregarded as “New Age hokum.” However, countless studies have shown that even the act of mindful breathing can have a noticeably positive impact on your life. Why not try it for yourself? Just start by taking a deep breath.