Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. The Mind-Body Benefits of Conscious Breathing
“There is no more powerful practice to further your health and well-being than conscious breathwork.” Andrew Weil, MD
Take a big, deep breath into your mouth filling your lower belly and then filling your chest. Exhale fully through your mouth. Repeat four times.Congratulations. You are on your way to healing and wellness.
Conscious breathing, like what you just practiced, is a form of meditation now proven to have an incredibly positive effect on your entire mental, physical, and spiritual health. Yogis have used breath control exercises, or pranayama, for centuries to promote mental acuity and overall wellbeing. And, Buddha taught a breathing meditation as a way to reach enlightenment.
Recent scholarly research indicates that the benefits of this age-old practice are real— and significant. For instance, researchers have found that conscious breathing boosts the immune system, enhances memory, elevates mood, increases energy, and promotes concentration. They also find that breathing techniques reduce symptoms of: post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, insomnia, high blood pressure, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder.
“I have seen patients transformed by adopting regular breathing practices,” says Dr. Brown, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and co- author of The Healing Power of the Breath. According to Dr. Brown, consciously changing the way you breathe appears to send a signal to the brain to adjust the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which can slow heart rate and digestion and promote feelings of calm as well as the sympathetic system, which controls the release of stress hormones like cortisol. If unregulated, these hormones can negatively affect every part of our system—leading to heart disease, a compromised immune system, and neurological and psychiatric maladies.
A recent study by Dr. Chris Streeter, an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University, measured the effect of daily yoga and breathing on people with diagnoses of major depressive disorder. 12 weeks after beginning the practice, the subjects’ depressive symptoms dramatically decreased and their levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid, a brain chemical that has calming and anti-anxiety effects, had increased. Presented in May 2017 at the International Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health in Las Vegas, this study was well-received and prompted large- scale studies.“The findings were exciting,” she said. “They show that a behavioral intervention can have effects of similar magnitude as an antidepressant.”
Conscious breathing plays a role in yoga and meditation, but there are other practices that focus solely on the power of breath. “Breathing is massively practical,” says Belisa
Vranich, a psychologist and author of the book “Breathe,” published in December 2017. “It’s meditation for people who can’t meditate.” Vranich offers such classes as “Corporate Breathing”, “Breathing for Golfers”, and “Breathing for Warriors” in New York City.
West Michigan native, Dawn Andersen, facilities one especially effective breathing therapy: BreathWork. “This breathing technique is so powerfully cleansing and healing, it's like years of therapy in 25 minutes!”, exclaims Andersen. Using music, guided meditation, special essential oils, and very specific breathwork coaching, Andersen, a certified Breathwork Facilitator, says that in 45 minutes you can transform your life. “And, you don’t need to speak or think, simply breathe!”
Andersen learned of BreathWork while living in Los Angeles. “I was a workaholic, living with anxiety and depression. I could barely function; I was drinking too much, could barely sleep, and had difficulty even leaving the house—unless it was for work.” And, then she wandered into a BreathWork facility. “It has truly changed my life. The breathing style utilizes Pranayama rhythmic 3-part breath as a catalyst to gently excavate blocked energy and unprocessed emotions from the body's nervous system, bypassing the analytical brain to efficiently restore a healthy state of balance, creativity, joy, hope, inspiration and abundance!”
Andersen states that her mind and body are now in balance. After studying with BreathWork Master and Healer, David Elliot, Andersen says, “I couldn’t wait to come back to West Michigan to share this incredible practice. It’s an all-encompassing recharge of body, mind and spirit; it’s a profoundly effective method for letting go of all that hinders your journey.” Now based in Rockford, Michigan, Dawn offers BreathWork coaching and classes at OMG!Yoga. Visit shamamagroup.com for more information— or email Dawn directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author Bio: Michele DeVoe Lussky is a creativity coach, shamanic writing practitioner, college writing instructor, writing consultant, comprehensive sexuality educator, activist, and intuitive based in Rockford, Michigan. She owns and operates Shamama, a group of experts dedicated to helping you tap into your creativity, unleash your power, find your purpose, and express your voice--through special events, workshops, retreats, coaching, and consulting--online and in the Grand Rapids, Rockford, and Grand Traverse areas.
NOTE: This article was originally published in Natural Awakenings-West Michigan February 2018 edition.