breath work

Breath Work as a Coping Skill

Take a deep breath.

I need to walk outside for a breath of air.

I feel like I can’t breathe.

Any of those sound familiar to you? There’s a reason that breath has so many references to our emotions and how we’re feeing in any given moment. There are also some key reminders that I like to share with folks related to their breath and how to use it as a tool.

  1. We literally need our breath for survival. So it makes sense that it surfaces as a “need” when we’re feeling uncomfortable or scared. If our breath becomes shallow, rapid or irregular then we feel distress in our bodies. Because our brains and muscles need oxygen to optimally operate, eventually we have to find or create a way to reconnect with a more full breath. Think about running a short distance; what’s the first thing you may tend to do when you stop? Take a deep breath, right? That’s our bodies automatic way of slowing down our system and reconnecting with optimal breathing.

  2. Our breath can be linked to our level of self-awareness. To be fair, the majority of individual the majority of the time, aren’t aware of their breath. Because our breath is automatic, it’s easy to become disconnected from it and its power. Taking a moment to check in with your breath and to take a long, slow and full breath can do wonders for your self-awareness. It serves as a checkpoint for your energy, emotions, actions and reactions. A long and really slow exhale can also begin to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which begins to send messages to all areas of our body to slow down, calm down and relax. While this can be an automatic response sometimes, we can also use this type of breath to intentionally bring ourselves to a state of calm.

  3. Focusing on breath can be a great way to slow down. Here’s something to try. Close your eyes and begin to pay attention to your breath. Then begin to make minor changes to your breath to make your inhales and exhales smooth, even and full. After a few intentional breaths this way, begin to make them even more full by filling up the belly with air; really feel your belly button expand and move away from the spine with each inhale. Come back to a normal breath. Two questions after this exercise - how do you feel and how much could you really think about anything else while focusing on your breath in that way? Imagine how your life could be different if you took even just a few moments doing this before responding to a situation.

  4. Breath goes with you wherever you go. My favorite reason to helping people establish awareness and connection with their breath is because it is a limitless resource. You literally can tap into your breath, increase awareness of the quality of your breath, and begin to bring on a state of calm no matter where you are or what you’re doing. You may really enjoy sitting in a quiet space with eyes closed practicing your breathing, which is great, but you can also do it standing in the line at the grocery store, in work meetings, at the dinner table with your family, in the car with your kids. It resides in you for as long as you’re living, so it’s a resource that you can take advantage of at any time.

Like most things in life that we’re good at and our effective for us, breath work requires practice. I have found that the more people practice being aware and using their breath as a resource, that the more powerful of a tool it can be. It’s definitely not the only tool and it’s not going to magically change all things in the moment, but if you are consistent with some sort of breathing practice and can begin to find ways to connect to it in moments of distress, I guarantee that you will find it useful.

Peace, grace and brave hearts,