Mindful breathing: Does it help anxiety, depression and insomnia?
Every day we breathe without thinking about breathing. While we work, relax, eat, relax, sleep.
However, when we breathe intentionally, following specific patterns, it can completely transform how we feel. Intentional breathing is a key tool of mindfulness. Studies have linked different intentional breathing techniques to numerous health benefits, including regulating negative emotions, reducing anxiety, reducing oxidative stress levels, and improving cardiovascular function.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present and engaged in the moment. Practicing mindfulness also involves acceptance, being aware of your thoughts and feelings without distraction or judgment. It’s about being present in the current moment rather than recalling the past or imagining the future.
Though mindfulness started and evolved as a practiced Buddhist meditation, in more recent times it has entered the Western world and has become a mainstream practice for promotion of personal wellbeing. Over recent decades thousands of studies have documented the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness. Mindful breathing techniques have been found to moor you to the present, influence thoughts and emotions, and to promote calm (mentally and physiologically). The results of research have inspired countless programs to adopt mindfulness practice in schools, prisons, hospitals, and other institutions and community groups.
What is mindful breathing?
Mindful breathing is a powerful mindfulness practice, which involves focusing attention on the natural rhythm and flow of breathing, paying attention to how it feels when each breath is coming in and going out. Mindful Breathing pairs the benefits of deep breathing with mindfulness techniques, which some people find amplifies relaxation and calm.
With mindful breathing the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. This is the body's “rest and digest” system. When this system is activated, heart rate and blood pressure lowers, resulting in decreased anxiety and an improvement in emotional state.
How can mindful breathing help anxiety, depression and insomnia?
By using the breath as an anchor to the present you can become more aware of your thoughts and emotions, enabling you to stop them before they escalate to a point where they trigger unhelpful or unhappy feelings that can lead to drops in mood, a rush of anxiety or racing thoughts that stop you from falling asleep. Mindfulness teaches you to identify thoughts and release negative and unhelpful self-talk, ”Here’s that thought again. I’ve had this before. But I know it’s just a thought, and not a part of my true self”.
How to practice Mindful Breathing
Mindful Breathing involves gently focusing attention on the breath. Be aware of your breath each time you inhale and exhale. You are not trying to change your breathing pattern, placement or depth. There are no expectations. Your only focus is your natural breathing from moment to moment.
Just follow these 3 simple steps when you need to return to calm:
- Find a quiet place to lie or sit down and set a timer for anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. If seated, keep your back straight but not too tight. Your hands are resting comfortably. Your tongue touches the roof of your mouth.
- Begin to relax. Be aware of your body, the sensations that you feel, how your clothes touch your skin. Be aware of where you breathe. Maybe it's in your abdomen; it could be in your mouth, throat, or nose. Feel the natural rhythm of your breath, not too deep, not too short. Inhale, exhale.
- Tame the “monkey” that constantly dances in your brain. Your mind will try to wander from one thought to another. When thoughts enter your mind, try to let them go and return focus to your breathing. One technique that may help maintain focus is repeating a mantra with each breath. One mantra you may find helpful is “Let go”. Each time you breathe in, say “Let”, and each time you breathe out, say “Go”.
Mindful breathing is a basic yet powerful mindfulness meditation practice that can aid you in becoming more aware of your thoughts and emotions, so you can stop them before they escalate to a point where they trigger a drop in mood, or feelings of anxiety that can affect daily life and sleep. By focusing attention on your breathing, you may be able to remove focus from a situation that is causing stress.