Why is Mindful Breathing Important?

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mindful breath is a key component of accessing meditative states.

As we go through our day, we usually don’t think too much about breathing. Although, it’s one of the body’s amazing automatic operations. So, unless we’re doing a very strenuous activity and our breathing is becoming labored, we generally don’t pay attention to it. Most rarely ask the question: Why is mindful breathing important? However, there are definite health benefits (physical and mental) to be gained from learning to breath mindfully. 

The breath constantly brings fresh oxygen into our lungs and expels carbon dioxide. It is critical for our body’s optimal functioning. The brain must have oxygen to maintain mental clarity. Muscles need oxygen to move, and the digestive system relies on it to work properly. In fact, every cell in our body requires oxygen to process nutrients from the food we eat into energy. 

So, why is mindful breathing important? Here’s what it’s all about and why it’s advantageous. 

What is mindful breathing? 

There are various breath practices from pranayama, to measured breath such as box breathing. Mindful breathing is simply paying attention to your breath. It’s about tuning in to the gentle rhythm of your breathing. Take a moment to notice the cool feel of air as it moves in through your nostrils, the slow expansion of your lungs with the in breath followed by the soft expelling of air on the out breath.

By simply slowing the breath we begin to change the nervous system. Studies have shown that by extending the exhale or breathing more slowly we send a signal to the nervous system to begin to calm, and release stress.

Why is mindful breathing important? 

Promotes patience 

Most of us life fairly fast-paced lives. Whether we’re commuting to our jobs or working at home, the demands can sometimes be extraordinary. If we’re also caring for other family members, it may seem that we barely have enough time for ourselves. Plus, we’re perpetually plugged in to electronics, and bombarded with information. Many of us find ourselves trying to multitask, and might not have patience with anything that interferes with our day. 

Practicing mindful breathing can break the cycle of constantly striving to get everything done. Traffic jams, long line ups and lengthy telephone wait times are outside our control so, of course, it’s counterproductive to get impatient. By tuning into our breathing we’re better able to see the circumstances that we do and don’t have influence over. And, when we surrender to this knowledge, we’ll begin to feel just a little more tolerance for our environment, and the people in it. 

Mindful breathing boosts cognitive function 

When you have lots on your mind, it can be very difficult to think clearly – not to mention express yourself coherently. Even if you’re pondering positive information, your brain needs a proper flow of oxygen to take data in, analyze what it’s receiving and make good strategic decisions. 

For many years, mindful breathing methods have been in use around the globe as a sort of brain training. These practices help you to slow down and focus your mind more fully on your thoughts. This lets your brain take the time it needs to do its processing work. Researchers have studied in-depth the impact of meditation on cognitive function, and now there’s recent scientific inquiry showing mindful breathing gives our brains a real boost as well. 

Creates calm 

Mindful breathing connects us with the present moment, calming our mind and interrupting our habit of constantly thinking and ruminating on problems. The act of breathing slowly and purposefully induces a sense of calm in our mind and body. This gives us permission to check in with ourselves and notice our emotions, and where we might be holding tension in our bodies. The relaxation of muscles that ensues and the delicious sense of serenity that floods our mind cannot be understated. 

By taking some time each day to engage in being conscious of our breathing, over time, the sense of calm this activity evokes can actually become our ‘go to’ mental state. As a result, we’re better able to engage with our environment in a positive and measured way. Here’s one scientific study about the incredible calming effect of mindful breathing. Alluding to its importance in taming the overactive mind, master teachers in the Buddhist tradition have also stated that “The breath is the horse, and the mind is the rider”.

Reduces anxiety 

We’re probably all familiar with the sense of panic we feel when we find ourselves in a highly stressful situation. This heightened anxiety is due to our body’s natural fight or flight response that kicks into high gear when we’re feeling threatened. It’s our brain’s way of preparing us to respond to danger by increasing our heart rate and sending blood flow to muscles to prime them for action. It causes our breathing to become shallow, or we may even be holding our breath – reducing needed oxygen flow to our brains. 

But this primitive response is often not needed to deal with day-to-day stressors, and if we’re constantly in this mode of operating, it can lead to anxiety. 

This is where learning how to breathe mindfully can be very valuable. Just remembering to stop and take a few breaths before we enter a stressful meeting or begin a difficult conversation with someone can assist. This is because mindful breathing stimulates the vagus nerve and begins to reverse the body’s anxious response. 

Increases awareness 

Another benefit of mindful breathing is that it increases our awareness of what’s going on around us. When we improve our attention to our environment, we’re less preoccupied with our thoughts and can be more planful in our responses. This also supports more effective communication with others. 

Focusing on our breath enables us to perform better. If you’re tuning up your guitar, warming up your singing voice or lining up that perfect golf shot, taking several steady breaths allows you to be more effective − no matter what you’re doing. In addition, the very act of being more present can enhance our creativity and allow new ideas to come forward in our minds. 

The advantages of mindful breathing don’t end there. Mastering this practice can reduce blood pressure, lower your resting heart rate, regulate mood, combat depression, manage chronic pain better, lessen fatigue, help prevent burn out and more. Training yourself to breath mindfully truly rewards you in so many wonderful ways. 

Improves Heart Rate Variability

5.5 breaths to 6 breaths per minute is also known as Resonance Breath. Resonance breath has been shown to improve Heart Rate Variability, Blood Pressure, and Mood. 

Heart Rate Variability is a measurement of the micro variations in heartbeat that reflect the hearts ability to respond to various stimuli. Heart Rate Variability is commonly used to measure the state and tone of the nervous system. Studies found that those with positive HRV measurements were more resilient emotionally and physically. HRV can be improved through breath practice. The improved HRV reflects a greater resiliency, and improved nervous system function.

To Summarize:

The breath and body communicate in frequency and are key in tapping into our perceptions, and memories within the subconscious mind. The breath can be a major key to mental and physical wellbeing. It’s like a remote control of the nervous system, a key to the dimension of peace within. 

Breath rates can also influence: 

  • Blood Pressure 
  • Blood Flow 
  • Metabolism 
  • Brainwaves and Brain Chemicals 
  • Movement of Cerebrospinal Fluid 
  • Heart Rate variability 
  • and Vagal Tone

For more information about how sound frequency can work in conjunction with breath rhythms to reduce and release stress, please see the course “Release Stress through the power of sound and frequency“.

article by Sandra Bell-Murray, with additions from Sonic Yogi


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