Is ‘breathfulness’ the new mindfulness?

We take about 20,000 breaths a day. Here’s how each breath give us more energy and an emotional lift.

Most of us have heard of mindfulness – the art of focusing on the moment to help reduce stress and improve memory and concentration.

Now comes ‘breathfulness’ – focusing on how we breathe and the impact that has on our physical and emotional wellbeing.

For around a decade, universities around the world have been looking at how deep breathing can bring physical health benefits.

Research from Estonia found deep breathing can help lower blood pressure, while a University of California study found breathing exercises can help reduce chronic lower-back pain.

Deep breathing has also been found to help ease migraine pain.

How rapidly and deep you breathe can affect the state of your emotional or mental health.

Coherent breathing

Our body has two nervous systems that speed up and slow down body functions such as our heart rate and digestion.

The parasympathetic nervous system is like a car’s brake, while the sympathetic nervous system is the accelerator.

Harvard medical researchers Richard Brown and Patricia Gerbarg have identified ‘coherent breathing’ as a way to bring the two nervous systems into balance, helping to reduce stress and anxiety – which then leads to improvements in our physical health.


How to try coherent breathing

Breathe in for six seconds and then out for six seconds, and repeat this pattern for a few minutes.

“When you get stressed, notice the change in your breathing pattern – you may hold your breath or find your breath becomes shallower,” says Ann Harrison, of the Australian Breathwork Association.

“The way you breathe is a barometer to your mental and emotional wellbeing.”

Breathwork covers a range of breathing practices and is about learning to be aware of our breath in different situations and learning to breathe consciously.

“You can try coherent breathing any time you have a few minutes – when you are sitting in your car or on a train, in meetings or when you are in a queue at the supermarket,” says Ann.

“Try it and you will feel calmer wherever you happen to be at the time.”

Breathfulness tips

  • Lie on a flat surface, knees bent and with your head supported. Put one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose and inhale for six seconds. Imagine your breath travelling down into your belly.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and try and force your abdomen to expand as you inhale. Your chest should remain as still as possible.
  • Then exhale through your mouth slowly for six seconds. Inhale again, holding for six seconds, and then exhaling for six seconds.
  • Do five breath cycles each minute for two minutes.

Written by Sarah Marinos