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Our breath affects the way we think and feel, and the way we think and feel affects the way we breathe. If we are feeling scared or upset, we may hold our breath. When we are sad or depressed, we may let our breath out in long sighs while our inhale breath becomes short and shallow. If we are anxious, our inhale breath may be long while our exhale breath is short and shallow. When we are calm and relaxed, our breath becomes smooth and even. There are many different habits of breath.

 The minute you pay attention to your breathing, you start to change it

If we aren’t aware of our breathing, we can get stuck in breathing patterns that aren’t serving us anymore. We may breathe a certain way when we feel scared, but after we aren’t scared anymore, the breath may continue in the same “scared” rhythm. When this happens, it may take some breath retraining to shift the habit we have created. Just like postures can retrain our body habits, breathing practices can help us retrain our breath patterns, allowing our breathing to become more adaptable. Finding breathing patterns that are both supportive and adaptable is important to our health and well-being.

Recognizing Your Patterns of Breath

In order to find those patterns that support us, we first need to explore what our own patterns of breath look and feel like. If you can start to notice the subtle nuances of your own breathing, you may have enough information to choose some practices that would balance your existing habits of breath and allow them to be more adaptable. Breath awareness is the first place to start when we are retraining the breath. This may sound simple, but as you may have just noticed, the minute you pay attention to your breathing, you start to change it. In some ways this is appropriate because it means we are constantly adapting when we are made aware. On the other hand, it makes it hard to really get a sense of what we are doing and why. Our breathing is both under our conscious control and it also will continue even if we are not conscious of it. This makes it easy to affect breath and easy to ignore it as well.

Notice What You Notice

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Before you make changes to your breathing try this: At different times during the day check in with your breathing. You may even set a reminder for yourself. Notice what your breath is doing when you are going about your day. Notice when you are concentrating, or in a difficult conversation. Notice what your breath is doing when you are in a friendly conversation, or when you are working, walking, etc. Each time you check in, notice if you are breathing deeply or shallowly, fast or slow, are you holding the breath? If you are holding your breath, are you holding it at the top of your inhale breath, or the bottom of your exhale breath? Is there retention in midstream? Maybe you are doing more than one of these. Notice what parts of your body move when you breathe. Are there noises in the breath? Is there jerkiness in the breath? After several days or even weeks of breath awareness, you may have some interesting information about your own habits. Once you have the information you can start to work with simple retraining. Some of the retraining exercises can be as simple as reminding yourself to keep breathing without any pauses. You may notice that you are a shallow breather. I suggest our Breath Awareness practice video as way to work on this retraining. The first step is to notice without judgments.

What do you notice about the connection of your mood to your patterns of breathing?

Contributed by

Susi Amendola
Stress Management Specialist

What have you done to remind yourself of the things that have meaning for you?

Better Health Begins With You...

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