Control the breath and you control the mind.
The breath is a remarkably powerful mind–body connection. Although we all breathe everyday it remains a largely unconscious process. This means our breathing often changes in important ways without us being aware of it. Anxiety, anger, deep calm or steady concentration each have their own patterns of breathing and we move between different styles of breathing every day without usually realizing it. If we can recognize these styles of breathing, we can also consciously change them and this in turn produces a change in our emotional state. We can therefore use changes to a pattern of breathing to change our mood and mental states.
If you are anxious, the breath is often shallow and sharp, and changing your breathing to slow and deep, using the diaphragm, will lower your level of anxiety. This change is not usually so powerful as to make you totally relaxed in a few moments, but it is usually enough to ‘take the edge off’ the anxiety and ‘crank it down a few notches’. For someone suffering anxiety this is usually enough to allow them to think more clearly about the situation and decide upon what additional strategies to use to help.
In Dr Greg Smith’s work as a psychologist he has taught simple ‘belly breathing’ or diaphragmatic breathing to literally hundreds of people with severe anxiety, and they learn how to rapidly calm themselves. Severe anxiety can be very debilitating, and if someone was offered a pill that could reduce their anxiety levels by 30 per cent in one or two minutes, there would be a big market for the medication. The same thing, however, can be done with simple breathing, and anxiety is just one application. Breathing skills can be used to change states of mind, concentrate better, enhance performance and much more.
Dr Greg Smith explains and demonstrates the benefits of 'belly breathing':
This includes content from Purposeful Breathing by Dr Greg Smith, published by Exisle Publishing and available wherever all good books are sold and at exislepublishing.com. Dr Greg Smith is a psychologist who combines an interest in empowering styles of psychotherapy with a passion for yoga, meditation and mind–body awareness.