What Is Conscious Breathing?
As humans, we have more control of both our psychological and physiological state than we might think.
As obvious as it may sound, breathing is fundamental to our well-being as a species.
Of course, we need to breathe to survive. But beyond our instinctual biology, is the practice of conscious breathing.
Conscious breathing exercises have taken many forms over the years, from religious meditations to scientific research.
Breathing techniques have been used to combat the effects of stress, anxiety and depression. But is there more to these techniques than just a few ‘quick-fix’ methods?
These practices come with all sorts labels and variations which can be somewhat overwhelming. Potentially confusing people wanting to research further into the subject.
In this article, we will explore both the micro and macro benefits of these exercises. We will also analyse a range of techniques from various sources and how they can be applied to improve your well-being.
The Benefits of Conscious Breathing
Breathing is not only vital for survival but for several aspects of life. Here are some of the key benefits from practising conscious breathing.
1. Conscious Breathing can help with everyday stress, as-well as coping with anxiety or depression. By practising breathing methods, you can train your body to enter a calmer state. After habitual practice, this will eventually become your default.
2. Breathing can make you more productive and even boost your intelligence. By regularly allowing more oxygen to reach your brain, it will be operating at a much higher capacity. Certain techniques may also provide a sense of much-needed clarity, helping you push through any mental barriers.
3. Breathing releases toxins. On average, you release 70% of your toxins through breathing. By practising breathing techniques you will be improving your body’s efficiency, decreasing your overall chances of illness. By allowing more oxygen to pass through your bloodstream, your body will metabolise nutrients and vitamins much more effectively, strengthening your immune system.
4. Breathing has many biological benefits. It can improve the quality of your blood by increasing the oxygen flow, it will allow the cells in your muscles to repair much faster and will massage your internal organs; improving metabolism and overall performance.
5. Constant breathing practice can elevate your mood. If you are someone who struggles with fluctuating moods, breathing methods will help to stabilise your emotions. The more you practice, the more benefits you will notice.
Controlling Your Physiology
Dr Alan Watkins is recognised as an expert in human performance. With a background in Psychology, Neuroscience and a PHD in Immunology; Alan has studied several ways in which humans can deal with their internal problems.
One of his key concepts is how we can ‘hack our biology’ through addressing a few key factors, including our breathing.
Dr Watkins devised a demonstration in one of his TED talks to show the audience how we could regulate our heart-rate with a simple breathing method.
He picked out a member of the audience and connected them to a heart-rate monitor. He then asked the guest a series of difficult questions along with some challenging tasks.
This naturally sent the man’s heart-rate through the roof, showing inconsistent fluctuations.
He then asked his guest to breathe in a rhythmic pattern, following an animation on the projector. Within a few seconds, his heart-rate was regulated, displayed through a constant waveform pattern.
Dr Watkins went on to explain that there are twelve aspects of your breath that you can regulate. However, the single most important aspect is rhythm.
Contrary to popular belief, the volume of breath is not the most important factor. Instead of taking deep breaths, try taking a few rhythmic breaths.
Why is this so significant?
This technique will directly address your physical state. Alan believes that performance is primarily affected by our behaviour.
Alan continues to look deeper into this thesis by breaking it down into a chain of core factors: Performance – Behaviour – Thought – Feeling – Emotion – Physiology.
The difference between emotion and feeling was something I struggled with at first. However, he explains that emotion is a chemical release of energy, whereas feelings are the awareness of that energy.
Our behaviour is affected by how we think. How we think is affected by how we feel. Even more fundamental than this is our raw emotion. But right at the base of all these factors is our physiology.
Therefore, by understanding how we can control our physiological state, we can set up the basis for a positive chain of outcomes.
Top 3 Breathing Factors:
- location (through the centre of your chest)
‘It’s important to focus your breathing towards your heart, as it outputs more electrical power than anywhere else in the body, including the brain.’
It can be both a positive and a negative thing to be adrenalised, or even relaxed. Both states can be used effectively if under a positive influence, however, they can exacerbate issues if under a negative influence.
A negative relaxed state can cause apathy, boredom and detachment, whereas a positive relaxed state can cause contentment, curiosity and equanimity.
The same with adrenaline. A negative adrenalised state may lead to anxiety, anger or frustration, whereas positive adrenaline can encourage passion, determination and focus.
Regulating your physiology through breathing will get you to a base level, allowing you to take control over your natural state.
If you want to find out more, watch the full video here:
Wim Hoff – The Iceman
Wim Hoff, or better known as ‘The Iceman’, is someone who has taken the idea of controlling their physiology to another level.
He is able to withstand extreme cold, which he attributes to meditation, cold exposure and breathing techniques. This has been called the Wim Hoff Method and is now practised by a large group of people.
“Wim Hof has set out to spread the potential health benefits of his breathing techniques, working closely with scientists around the world to prove that his techniques work”
Recent scientific studies have shown that Wim Hof is able to control his adrenaline, heart-rate and blood alkalinity, all through the use of his techniques.
By combining both mental and physical practices, Wim Hoff has been able to accomplish extraordinary challenges. He currently holds 26 world records, including longest ice bath.
- 2007: He climbed to 6.7 kilometres (22,000 ft) altitude at Mount Everest wearing nothing but shorts and shoes, but failed to reach the summit due to a recurring foot injury.
- 2008: He broke his previous world record by staying immersed in ice for 1 hour, 13 minutes and 48 seconds at Guinness World Records 2008
- 2009: In February Hof reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in his shorts within two days. Hof completed a full marathon (42.195 kilometres (26.219 mi)), above the arctic circle in Finland, in temperatures close to −20 °C (−4 °F). Dressed in nothing but shorts, Hof finished in 5 hours and 25 minutes. The challenge was filmed by ‘Firecrackerfilms‘, who make productions for BBC, Channel 4 and National Geographic.
- 2010: Hof again broke the ice endurance record by standing fully immersed in ice for 1 hour and 44 minutes in Tokyo, Japan
- 2011: Hof ran a full marathon in the Namib Desert without water. He also beat his ice endurance record again, pushing to 1 hour 52 minutes.
Conscious Breathing – Conclusion
To conclude, there are many benefits of conscious breathing techniques. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated or confusing – pick a routine that suits you, and stick to it. Simple.
These methods will help you lead a healthy and mindful lifestyle, taking more control of both your body and mind.
If you want to find out about Mindfulness techniques, then click here.