What’s your relationship with your breath? Is it a friendly resource? Perhaps a tool for performance? A frustrating reminder of your panic, unyieldingly unpredictable? A reminder from others that your emotions are too much, cuing a “Take a breath”. Or are you reading this and thinking, “Yeah, I breathe… someone should let her know that’s not something people need to think about.”

Therapists are interested in the quality and history of your relationships, and to me, the breath is no different. Your access to it, your comfort, your awareness, all play a role in your wellbeing. Like any relationship, you can always work on it and re-connect. Curiosity is key–you do yourself a disservice to take it for granted, and you can go deeper. Yes, indeed, it can become a loving relationship.

Your breath may be an actual source of anxiety. Of mistrust. Perhaps you experience panic, and your breath seems to betray you. I often hear people share they have used breathing exercises or strategies they learned in past therapy, and they haven’t worked for them. So, we explore that–how was this approached? What expectations did you have? And lastly, well, let’s not do that exactly if it doesn’t work for you. Not everything works for every person and every relationship….

           As some of you read this, you may even have become more aware of your breath. Some of you may feel it to be unpleasant. Some of you took a deep breath and found it settling. Just notice this and know there isn’t anything you need to do. Notice the sensations as they come up and the shift in your body and allow it to be. As you either grow your tolerance of being with discomfort, or become more aware of the calming effect, your relationship grows and you will have more insight and access. And access to deep breaths and breathing does help us relax, does bring calm. Maybe not completely for everyone, but more. After all, we don’t immediately improve our relationships without a little work.

           Our breath is connected to our minds and other systems in our body. Our breath is both impacted by the outside world and can also be a tool to impact our internal world. Our autonomic nervous system, working with our brains, goes between two parts regulating us and informing many systems. In a more stressed reaction (anxious, fight or flight, fear, trauma responses, angry) our sympathetic nervous system is activated, at which point many things happen in our bodies including quicker, more shallow breathing. Our parasympathetic system is what then allows for deep breath, among other responses in our bodies and brains (the threat has passed, release of the physical stress occurs). One benefit of a healthier relationship with your breath, is that you can also support your system in letting it know it is ok. Indeed on the physiological level, breath–particularly deep breathing with elongated exhales, is a tool for calm. It is an access point to the parasympathetic nervous system. There are many studies and scientific findings of health and psychological benefits to focusing on breathing and breathwork, including decrease in stress and anxiety, improved sleep, and improving focus to name a few.

           Your breath can help how you connect with others. This one is neat. Have you ever experienced how being around a calm person can help you feel different in your own internal experience? And more connected to the other person? All that stuff from the previous paragraph… we can also help each other’s systems because we are so socially connected and dependent on that connection. We respond to each other’s nervous systems and we can co-regulate! Maybe you’re a parent and you practice this with helping your child calm down often (or maybe this could be a helpful tool you’ve been neglecting or need to work on yourself). Maybe you have those go-to people in your life that just help you, well, take a deeper breath. A good relationship is one that connects us, not isolates us.

           Breath is connected to spirit. Many spiritual practices have intense focus on breath, including religions and more secular practices. Yogic practice heavily includes breath, not just in the Asanas (poses) that most are familiar with, but a whole dedicated breathing practice called pranayama. Pranayama is Sanskrit translated to “vital life force” or sometimes “control of life force”. Breath work is often used in meditative and mindfulness practices, as part of connecting to yourself on a deeper inner level, being more present, and some people express access to spiritual awakenings and enlightenment with breath incorporated into spiritual practices.

            What the breath supports us with in life are many of the things people I meet with as a therapist would like help with. Counselors, yoga practitioners, spiritual and meditative coaches, can teach breathing exercises, strategies, and support you in strengthening and healing this relationship. I would encourage you consider what would help you invest some time into connecting with your breath and living a fuller, healthier, and more present life.

-Rae Magnani, LCPC, RYT 200

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