Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
discover how simply changing the way we breathe can immediately and dramatically change the way we think and feel.
Breathing, we do it every moment of every day and yet most of us just take it for granted. We see breathing as a binary process, either I’m breathing (and therefore alive) or I’m not breathing (and therefore in danger or already dead). But a little investigation into our own breathing patterns can perforate that belief.
Do you ever find yourself holding your breath while working?
Do you breathe in sharply when you get scared?
Do you breathe through the mouth or nose while asleep?
Do you ever laugh so hard that you lose your breath?
Do you sigh out when something happens that relieves your worry?
A question like this could be asked of any experience we may have because breathing is happening under all of it. Although we may not realize it, the patterns of our breath match the activity of our brains.
Every emotional state has a signature breathing pattern associated with it. This statement is pretty much folk knowledge, that is, we know this. What you may not know…
Studies (and experience) show that if you practice a specific breathing pattern, it will generate the corollary emotional state.
Instead of being at the mercy of our highly evolved chimp brains run amok on imagination, rumination and constant worry, we can take back control of our brains and let it work for us. There is a lever into the brain that we can use to shift it and that lever is the breath.
By altering the volume, rate and source of our breath, we alter the functioning of our entire mind body. This changes the way we feel, the way we perceive and the way we can easily operate. It’s very simple.
The 5 brain states we currently know about are:
DELTA (0-4hz) – This is a state of deep, dreamless sleep, rest and meditation, it is also often seen in people under anesthesia. This state is very conducive to healing and deep unconscious processing.
THETA (4-8hz) – Often associated with REM (dream) sleep, hypnosis, or passive absorption. Young children are usually this state which makes them extremely receptive to information & learning.
ALPHA (8-13hz) – Often referred to as a flow state, it is marked by a relaxed, almost playful outward engagement. We feel calm, fluid and centered. We function well in this state.
BETA (13-30hz) – A state of alert focus, tunneled vision and some nervous tension. This state can be very functional (if we are trying to focus on work) or very dysfunctional (if we are anxious and mentally stuck, worrying about things).
GAMMA (>30hz) – Less is known about gamma, it seems to be a cathartic state that facilitates healing, release of trauma and other transpersonal or superconscious states, as well as states of peak performance.
Do you often come home from work and want to attend to your family, but feel like you can’t really be present? Your brain is probably still on high beta from the work day.
Do you ever wake up from a nap and feel groggy and out of it for a while after? Your brain is probably still in delta or theta.
As we come to understand these different brain states and as we learn to recognize them in ourselves, we gain the power to shift them. Via the breath, we can take back control over our minds. Our own psyche is a vast and rich landscape to explore, there is so much more to life than beta productivity.
The general rule for moving one’s self up and down the scale is this:
If we breathe faster, our brains become more active. If we breathe slower, our brains become less active.
Via conscious breathing choices, we can choose and enter the brain state we want or which would best facilitate our activity. If you want to experiment with this yourself, try breathing rhythmically (with inhales and exhales of equal length). Speed up the pace for 5-10 breaths and notice how you feel. Then slow down the pace for 5-10 breaths and notice how you feel.
If you feel overwhelmed, breathe slowly and lightly. If you feel tired, breathe fully and more quickly. Within moments you will feel the difference and within minutes, measurable changes in heart rate, blood pressure, brain and metabolic activity, as well as hormone secretion will occur.
It’s very quick, very effective, always available and totally natural.
If you’re interested in further exploring the breath and these different brain states here are a few breathing practices to try:
DELTA – 1 Minute Breath (20 seconds inhale, exhale and hold). Breathing this slowly without stress will require practice. Brahmaree Breath (easy inhale, exhale while steadily humming).
THETA – Box Breath (equal count inhale, hold, exhale, hold), slowly and without stress. Also slow Cyclical Breathing (equal inhale and exhale, without pause).
ALPHA – Cyclical Breathing (equal inhale and exhale without pause), the slower you breathe, the more relaxed you’ll feel.
BETA – Cyclical Breathing at a quicker pace, Bhastrika (sharp inhale, sharp exhale) or Kapalbhati, breath of fire, (small sharp exhales from the nose, followed by a passive inhale of equal size).
GAMMA – Overbreathing practices (big breaths through the mouth for extended periods of time, 30 minutes to hours).
**if you are new to breathing, I advise seeking a group for gamma breathing practices. Holotropic Breathwork or Owaken Breathwork are two styles I like.
Our breath is constantly affecting us, whether we are using it consciously or unconsciously. We should probably learn how to work with it.
It can contribute to our stress or it can alleviate it. Breath can harmonize our mind body and boost our health or it can degrade us and leave us depleted.
Breath is a powerful tool, but we have to learn how to use it. The more we give it attention, the more we practice, the more powerful it becomes and the more empowered we become. ENJOY!
You may also enjoy Best Self Yoga: Inner Power Warrior Flow by Carter Miles