The Breath is a Mind-Body "Gauge"

The Breath is a Mind-Body "Gauge"

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Breath is a reliable indicator of the status of the body, mind and emotions. However, since breathing is automatic, we usually adapt to subtle changes in our breathing without noticing them. But, if we learn to closely observe our breathing, we can detect ever so subtle changes occurring in the body or the mind.

Some might say that they already have enough problems to worry about, so why add, "How am I breathing?" to the list. But that's exactly the point. If you worry about it, your breathing will instantly change. If you simply observe your breath without attaching any kind of emotion, it will calm the mind and deepen the breath.

Individuals with chronic and excessive stress tend to under breathe or over breathe. One stress management technique is to take deep breaths through out the day. Taking a few deep breaths doesn't change the stressful situation. But it changes the person. Breathing replenishes the body and mind, and you feel stronger and more able to deal with the situation at hand.

Many individuals suffering from long-term depression form the habit of taking shorter and shallower breaths with longer pauses. Such a pattern of breathing can further contribute to depression. For instance, an insufficient breathing pattern can, over time, worsen the fatigue and low energy which are also symptoms of depression.

Credible research completed at the Indian National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences shows that a breathing technique consisting of alternate deep and short breaths can sometimes be as effective a treatment for depression as the antidepressants and counseling techniques.

Patients suffering from panic attack disorder tend to be chest breathers. They often have to sigh to release the chest tension and "catch" their breath. Chest breathing resulting in an imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body is considered to be one of the major causes of panic attacks. Using correct breathing techniques is one of the most effective ways to treat panic attacks.

Chronic medical problems can also cause breathing irregularities. Chronic faulty breathing can, in turn, exacerbate the medical disorder. Likewise, pain and breathing negatively influence each other. Pain can make the breath choppy, jerky or harsh. And, disturbed breathing can exacerbate the feeling of anxiety or anger and magnify the perception of pain.

Some people hold their breath while in pain. Over time, the pattern of holding the breath along with increased muscle tension can restrict the flow of blood to the pain site and also increase pain, Restricted blood flow over time may contribute to the degeneration of the involved tissues.

Taking long and deep breaths may help. "Breathing through" the pain is often an effective coping technique for some pain patients. Some, during a pain episode, can "move" their pain with their own breath until the pain is out of the body. Not every one is motivated or persistent enough to utilize these techniques, but for some, breathing can become an effective tool of pain management, along with medication.

I provide counseling for depressed or anxious patients who may have severe medical conditions such as the heart disease, diabetes or advanced arthritis. A lot of them experience significant breathlessness. Many use broncho-dilators on a regular basis. Obviously, there are usually physical reasons for breathlessness or hyperventilation; but emotional factors such as anxiety, stress and depression related to the medical condition may also trigger episodes of breathlessness or hyperventilation.

Environmental factors have further complicated the breathing problem. Oxygen is undoubtedly our lifeline. Presently, that "lifeline," like a thin wire, is passing through a deep fog and mist. Let me explain. Scientists, through analysis of fossils, estimate that in prehistoric times air consisted of thirty-six percent oxygen. Today, the oxygen in the air, on average, is nineteen to twenty-one percent.

In big cities where congestion and pollution are high, oxygen in the air is only about twelve to fifteen percent. Our fellow residents in the congested cities must manage with only 1/3rd of the life sustaining oxygen once enjoyed by the ancients. The ancients didn't just inhale oxygen, they "showered" in it. Incidentally, oxygen below seven percent may not sustain human life.

About 90% of the body's life-energy is created by oxygen. All bodily functions and physical actions are powered by oxygen. Our brain uses forty percent of the oxygen we inhale. Our ability to think, feel, and act depend on the energy produced by oxygen. Low energy can disrupt the body's ability to function. Oxygen deprivation over time can impair the immune system, cause diseases and hasten the aging process.

Always pay attention to your breathing. Whenever, you notice your breathing is compromised, deliberately take long and deep breaths until your breathing is restored to the normal.

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Copyright 2003, Mind Publications 
Posted March 2003


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