How to Use Breath As Medicine

How to Use Breath As Medicine

Did you know that most people don’t breathe properly? To do it properly, you must be conscious and mindful. When done correctly, breathing can relieve stress, anxiety, depression, pain, help you focus and concentrate, regulate sleep and wake cycles, and calm your central nervous system.

There Are 3 Ways to Breathe

Here’s the lowdown:

Abdominal: When you breathe in and air fills your belly, and then you breathe out and your belly flattens once again.

Thoracic: When you breathe into your chest and rib area.

Clavicular: When you breathe into your clavicle (upper chest/collarbones/shoulder area).

Clavicular breath is the last stage of breath and originates in the upper lungs. This occurs most often when you are out of breath and are struggling to regain balance in your breathing. You may see this when watching a sporting event and you notice the athletes put their hands on their bent knees during a game. This can also happen during panic attacks!

Did you know you can use breath as medicine? Here are three breathing techniques that reduce anxiety.

The most fulfilling breath is one that is both abdominal and thoracic. To achieve this, when you inhale, expand throughout your belly and chest and feel it inflate. When you exhale, you contract, and feel your belly and chest deflate.

NYC yoga instructor Kay Kay Clivio carries on the wisdom of yoga guru Ana Forrest in her classes, when she tells her students to “use the breath as medicine.”

Similarly, using breath to heal and soothe is at the core of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Controlling the breath and using it in a therapeutic way is a surefire way to get your emotions back under control. It is the first thing you can do when under any sort of distress and usually the last thing people think about. Thinking about using “breath as medicine” empowers you to change your emotions (and is a tool you have at your disposal at all times).

Some Yogic Breathing (Pranayama) Techniques You Can Try

Ujjayi breathing is sometimes called oceanic breath. You breathe in through the nose and out through the nose. The throat muscles will constrict a bit and your breath will make the beautiful, calming sound of the ocean. Try to hold each inhale and exhale for four to six counts. It’s helpful to meditate on the breath by saying to yourself, “Inhale, Inhale, Inhale, Inhale. And then: Exhale, Exhale, Exhale, Exhale.

Nadhi Shodhana is alternate nostril breathing. To try it, sit up tall in a cross-legged position and lengthen your spine up to the sky. With your right hand in front of your face, place your thumb and ring finger gently on each nostril. Close your eyes and close your right nostril by pressing gently on it with your thumb. Inhale through the left nostril. Hold the breath for a moment, and then release your thumb, and breathe out through the right nostril, while now covering your left. Repeat a couple times, in a gentle, slow, mindful way.

Incorporating some controlled, mindful yogic breathing into your daily routine can be so beneficial to your emotional and physical wellbeing. Being mindful of your heartbeat and recognizing your breath means that you are focused on the present moment. When you are, thoughts of the past and future go away. Breathing consciously is a powerful way to self-regulate. Allowing yourself to focus on your breath can lead to more balanced thinking and acting, a benefit to us all.

Authored by:

Jaime Gleicher, LMSW