How to Find Clarity Through the Conscious Breath
Take a deep breath in, and slowly let it out. As one of the most innate, natural bodily functions, we rarely stop to notice our breathing. However, as oxygen is essential to almost every chemical reaction in our bodies, the way we breathe is inextricably linked with our health and our minds.
Have you ever been told to “just breathe” or “take a deep breath”? Breathing is a central component of the nervous system and a vital source of the body’s response to stress. We experience it every day. When we are caught in a stressful situation, our breathing becomes quicker and our heart rate increases. However, when we are aware of how these stressors affect our bodies, we can intentionally slow our breath and cultivate a sense of calmness.
From yoga to meditation, breathing is at the core of mindful practices across the globe. Breathwork is the practice of intentional breathing that slows down the breath to connect the mind and body. In fact, numerous studies have found that conscious, slow-paced breathing has a direct effect on the chemical levels in the brain, followed by an abundance of cognitive and health benefits including:
Reduced stress, anxiety, and pain
Strengthened immune and respiratory systems
There are many types of breathwork practices that are used for a variety of purposes from increased athletic performance to holotropic breathwork that gives an out-of-body experience similar to that experienced under the influence of psychedelic drugs.
The 4-7-8 Method
Of the most common to alleviate stress is mindful breathing, which focuses on the sensations of the breath to promote concentration and relaxation. One easy technique that you can do when you begin to feel anxious is the 4-7-8 method of breathwork, which relaxes the body and mimics some of the benefits of meditation (for those of us who can’t sit still enough to meditate).
Practicing this method twice a day for eight weeks will give you greater clarity to make better decisions, rather than when you are in fight or flight mode. If one of your two sessions is just before bed, it can also help put ease your mind into deep slumber more easily. So, how do you do it?
Sit up straight in a chair.
Exhale completely making a ‘whoosh’ sound as you release air.
Close your mouth and inhale through your nose, deep into your stomach, to a count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of seven.
Exhale completely with a big ‘whoosh’ sound until you putter out at the mental count of eight.
In just a few minutes you are physiologically positioned to relax and think more clearly. In a recent Zoom meeting, my colleagues and I tried out the method to kick-start our call and help the conversation flow more easily and positively.
Breathing exercises are used by all kinds of successful people
Even distinguished figures like Beyoncé rely on breathing techniques to invoke calmness. In an interview with ELLE, the singer said that she “use[s] tools like acupuncture, meditation, visualization, and breathing exercises" to support her health.
Gwyneth Paltrow, actress and founder of health and lifestyle brand Goop, is also an advocate for breathwork. Her breathing instructor, Ashley Nesse, boasts the many mental health benefits of conscious breathing, and how it promotes productivity. She even mentions the importance of mindful breathing when scrolling through social media or checking emails. With the amount of information overload, it is crucial to take a moment to catch our breath and center our awareness.
Although breathing happens naturally and involuntarily, we can control the way we breathe. Breathing fully with intention centers us, and is the most accessible way to calm. It stabilizes the mind and reduces stress to create a space for clarity. You don’t need any equipment or meditation space, all you need to do is just breathe.