Foundations, Part I: Breath

When it comes down to it, everyone who comes to counseling is coming for the same reason: increasing the sense or feeling of well-being. Well-being can be described as the sense that everything is OK, or at least easily manageable; the feeling that one is satisfied, fulfilled and not immediately troubled by some problem.

The reasons for having a diminished sense of well-being are varied and complicated depending on the person and the situation. Often there may be a psychological block – such as a belief that conflicts with experience. Sometimes the belief itself is not in the person’s conscious awareness, or if it is, the person may not be connecting the belief with the conflict. Whatever the case may be, therapy can certainly help. But there are other things that can help just as much as talk therapy, and they involve the body.

I think sometimes we forget that our minds live inside our bodies and are strongly influenced by the state of the body. Or else we don’t really understand how significantly the various nutrients and processes we consume and engage in directly affect that state. In this series of posts, I’m going to address 5 foundations of physical health that have a profound impact on mental health.

The first is the breath. Of all the substance we take into our bodies, oxygen is the most immediately necessary. On the inhale we take oxygen into the lungs which transfers it to the bloodstream, where it is carried throughout the body, and especially to the brain, which uses from 3 to 10 times more than the rest of the body. On the exhale, the lungs expel carbon dioxide, one of the body’s waste products.

Improper breathing contributes to anxiety and panic, muscle pain in the neck, headaches and fatigue – just to name a few. And just as you might have guessed, proper breathing helps to alleviate and prevent these conditions. To simplify: proper breathing makes the body happy, and when the body is happy, the mind is happy. In addition to the physiological impact, attention to the breath helps to ground your mind within the present moment- which is the only place you ever really are anyway.

Please enjoy the following video on how we breathe: