The human body is a truly amazing organism. So much goes on that we are not even aware of that keeps us healthy and functioning. A perfect example of one of those things is breathing. It is something we do on autopilot, no thinking is involved, thankfully. But what if we did think about it more? Would it make a difference at all? Would it change anything? The answer to these questions is yes. While the eastern yogis have been practicing breath control for centuries, the western world is only recently understanding that mindful breathing is one of the most effective ways to reduce daily stresses, and can have a positive influence one’s physical, mental and emotional health.
The terms breathwork, deep breathing, mindful breathing, and relaxation response largely all mean the same thing, and will be used interchangeably in this e-book. They are defined as “any time we intentionally control or manipulate our breathing rate and depth over a specified time for a desired result”. The goal of breathwork is to bring awareness to one’s breathing by systemically changing breathing patterns for the purpose of inducing a feeling of deep relaxation or invigoration. However, breathwork is more than a way of breathing. It incorporates a large gamut of healing practices and exercises used to alleviate physical, mental, and emotional stress, such as diaphragmatic breathing (or belly breathing) and breath focus (deep breathing using imagery or focus words/phrases).
Despite breathing being a basic, automatic physiological function, there is a lot to learn about how to do it “properly”. The average person takes 14 to 20 breaths per minute, which is approximately three times faster than what is considered by experts to be healthy. Studies show that the most efficient way to breathe is 6 times per minute; 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out. It seems to generate greater tranquility via a sort of beneficial loop between the brain, lungs, and heart; unlocking and boosting the magnification of a fundamental physiological rhythm.
According to experts, “there is a strong relationship between one’s breath rate, mood state, and automatic nervous system state.” It has long been established that emotional situations cause changes in breath; like when a person feels anxiety or gets nervous, their breathing becomes more shallow and quicker. However, by simply changing their breath rate, they can alter their autonomic function and mood state.
Breathing and the Ave Maria
Interestingly enough, this 6-minute frequency is part of the repetitive nature of many religious and spiritual mantras and prayers; such as the mantras chanted during meditations, (particularly OM), and reciting the Ave Maria rosary prayer. Every time one chants a meditation mantra or the rosary prayer, the breath is organically synchronized to 6 times per minute. It is thought that over time, people unconsciously recognized the therapeutic benefits of rhythmic breathing and its ability to take a person to a relaxed state of mind. However, a scientific explanation is that reciting the Ave Maria prayer and chanting yoga mantras intensifies and synchronizes innate cardiovascular rhythms because respiration is slowed down to approximately 6 breaths per minute – virtually the same timing as that of the body’s circulatory rhythms.
Breathe in deeply to bring your mind home to your body. – Thich Nhat Hanh