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The Magic in Taking a Deep Breath

Breathing practices shift the stress-response system into a healthier balance by activating the healing, recharging part of the nervous system while quieting the defensive, energy-burning parts. In other words, the sympathetic nervous system (the primal "fight, flight" system) takes a step back, and the parasympathetic nervous system (the "rest and digest" or "calm and connect" system) is activated.

This has an immediate effect on all the body's systems. The heart, lungs, and brain become synchronized, resulting in increased blood flow and oxygen intake and inducing up to a tenfold improvement in heart-rate variability (a biological measure of stress resilience). All of this beneficial activity results in a stronger sense of calm and clarity — a perfect example of the feedback loop we call the mind/body connection.

Deep breathing exercises and techniques offered through yoga and meditation offer increased oxygen flow through the body, essential for fat burning and cellular efficiency, thus boosting metabolism. Deep breathing helps supply your body with adequate amounts of oxygen for optimal function. So do it while you exercise as well.

Pay attention to how you breathe by engaging in breathing awareness exercises. For example, place one hand on your stomach where you should detect the most movement when you breathe. If you can't feel this movement, you're not breathing deeply enough. Sitting tall, inhale through your nose, this time making sure that the shoulders move back, the chest expands and the abdominal wall expands during your breath. This will help you understand which muscles and movements are essential for full expansion of the lungs. Exhale through your mouth. Repeat this exercise several times for the best benefits of cellular oxygenation

Breath awareness practice can be as simple taking five or six slow, deep breaths for enhancing heart-rate variability. You can always use conscious breathing during stressful moments, but integrating it into your daily life will give you even better results: The more you practice, the more you'll increase your stress resilience and your physical and emotional balance.

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