Breath is the bridge

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One of the values I hold dear for my herbalist practice is this:

Breath is life. Breathe deeply. Do it often

The breath is both practical and mystical. The first thing we do on this planet is inhale, and the last thing we do before we leave is exhale. Breath is life. It’s also a bit more mundane.

When you allow the body autonomic control of the breath, the body will select the rate and depth of the breath. When you choose to control the breath, you control the intensity of your nervous system’s response. Calm situations evoke slow, deep breaths, while exciting or fearful situations cause rapid, shallow breath.

A groundbreaking study in 2010 shows that certain emotions cause distinct breathing patterns. Joy, anger, fear, and sadness all have a common pattern. These breathing patterns were the same whether the emotion was voluntarily expressed or if it was organically expressed. The most exciting and informative part of this study is part 2. During this section of the study, the researchers directed participants to breathe in a certain way – aligned with the emotions of joy, anger, fear, and sadness. What happened is that the participants started to actually feel the emotions.

The takeaway is that our voluntary breath has a direct impact on the emotions you express, and you can consciously use your breath to change your emotional state. Hmmm. Think about how powerful that is. You can consciously use your breath to change your emotional state.

So the next time you’re feeling anxious, nervous, fearful, stressed out, or angry, take a moment to shift your breath. Just take slow, deep breaths. No fancy breathing scheme or pattern to remember. Just slow down and breathe deeply.

This is the fastest, most effective way to soothe these intense emotions, but it is the one we most often forget to try.