May 7, 2020


Minute read

How Our Relationship With Breath Has The Power To Change Our Body, Brain and Life

Breath is truly our life force. 

Our bodies can go about three weeks without eating and three days without water. 

But we can go only go for about three minutes without air. 

We do it automatically, all day long, for our entire life. 

Today alone, you’ll breathe approximately 20,000 times.

But have you ever considered whether or not you’re any good at it?

Scholars might argue that with that much consistent practice, we’d be expert breathers. Maybe physiologically, with our consistent breathing practice, we are skilled — it IS automatic after all. 

Many of us, however, don’t have the relationship with our breath that we should — as strange as that may sound.

Like many of the things we consume regularly, our intake of oxygen has lost is preciousness. And, like any great love affair, your relationship with your breath will take time, effort, and a little flexibility. 

How many of those 20,000 breaths have you given some lovin’ to?

So why is it that we don’t have the relationship with our breath that we could have? 

Well, you could blame your parents, your teachers, nurses, or your therapist for prescribing you to try deep breathing to calm you down. These well-intentioned advisors have unknowingly thrown a wrench into the ever-complicated infrastructure of our breath relationship. 

Now parents, teachers, doctors, and therapists — don’t get me wrong. I know you mean well and I appreciate your intentions. But the overly-simplistic directive of “deep breathing” when anxious set things off on the wrong foot. 

Okay, but I really thought that breathing was beneficial! You told me it was our “life force”!

Why Breath Is Our Life Force

Breath IS our life force. It is our partner of all partners. It lives within the very pit of us and, according to the Latin, Greek, and Chinese etymology, you could argue that breath IS us — Spiritus, Prana, Qi, Psyche. 

Breathing has incredible and transformative powers on physiological and neurological levels. It also has the ability to shepherd the shift of our nervous system’s power house, the vagus nerves — allowing our brain and organs to function at a more optimal level. When the vagus nerves, (or “wandering” nerve, origin in vagabond), are functioning and communicating to our brain and organs optimally, we engage and respond with greater ease on a parasympathetic level. 

If that sounded like a bunch of gobbledygook, don’t sweat it. The big take-away is that breathing does have the power to make us less anxious over time.

But stay tuned if that gobbledygook turned you on a bit — I’ve got an upcoming issue JUST on vagal toning! Fun, right? 

So yes, there is a great deal of benefit to breathing. BUT, with many years of hearing that deep breathing is supposed to cure our anxiety, we actually associate deep breathing as something solely done when we are anxious, frustrated, or stressed.  Unwittingly, our advisors have helped to mar our relationship with our life force.

Fear not, however. YOU don’t need a breath-therapist. You’ve got this. 😉 

Much like a challenged marriage or relationship, with a little patience, effort, and TLC, you’ll be on the road to a healthy, happy and rewarding bond. 

I must warn you, however, this relationship — like all great relationships — must come from a place without expectations.

You need a consistent practice with your breath so that when you arrive in a stressful circumstance, you will have an optimally-functioning nervous system to respond, not react, in a healthy, less emotionally-driven way.

If you guessed that I’d tell you that you need a consistent practice, well, give yourself a gold star!

The C-word is all powerful. 

But remember that consistent doesn’t mean you need to do the same thing every day, or that you need to beat yourself up if thingsdon’t go as planned. 

Celebrate whatever consistent looks like today — whether that is five minutes, twenty minutes, or an hour. It’s healthier and more sustainable to have a daily practice that looks a little bit different each day, than it is to do single, weeklong spurt of hourlong practices. 

There are a whole lot of reasons for this that I will dig into in the weeks ahead, but it has to do with how our parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems can be affected, how our vagal nerves can be optimized, and our breath’s relationship to inflammation. 

For now, here are two quick ways to start turning your relationship around:

  1. Drop your preconceived notions. Breathing doesn’t have to be zen, over-spiritualized BS. In fact, the messier, the better. Like a healthy relationship with a partner or friend, nurtured stability builds trust, which grants us the freedom to explore, expand and grow. The whole idea of cultivating a breathing practice is to create stability, to grant ourselves the gift of that same freedom — to feel, function, experience, and love, differently. You get the opportunity to watch your breath grow, and begin to grow with it as the seasons change. A bonus is that you won’t have to worry about your breath leaving their socks next to the hamper, instead of inside of the hamper.
  2. So, the next time that you’re not stressed out, try this:
    • Set a quick intention. Don’t over think it. Close your eyes if you choose.
    • Inhale through your nose as deeply as you can (without causing discomfort or pain)
    • Exhale through your mouth as deeply as you can, adding in suspensions at the top of the inhale, or the bottom of the exhale, if you choose.
    • Repeat this 10 times. Observe what subtle sensations may arise on a physical, or mind level.

When you’re ready to step it up a bit, try journaling right after you’ve done this exercise. It does not have to be profound. It could be one word. It could be a doodle. You don’t need to be “transformed.” Just taking note of how you felt before and after is enough.For a little extra pleasure, do this outside, because, fresh air. 

Hang in there. You’re doing great things, and this week, and you, are full of potential! 

About the Author: Laura Araujo

Passionate about accessible education and evidence-based wellness, Laura founded The MAPS Institute, an educational wellness editorial and platform. Aside from her passion for research and educating, Laura is a classically trained vocalist, sound therapist, and a practitioner and teacher of Ashtanga and Restorative Yoga. She is the creator of the MAPS (Mindfulness, Activation, Purpose, and Surrender) philosophy and is in continual pursuit of helping her students and herself find balance amid the chaos around and within them. When not sifting through Nature Magazine, complaining about their paywalls, she enjoys trying new wine varietals, experimenting in the kitchen, riding her bicycle (sometimes cross-country), and spending time with her husband Charlie, cockapoo Miles, and expected baby girl, Ella.  Click here to follow the MAPS Institute on social media.



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