Take a Breath

How many times have you heard someone say, “I finally feel like I can take a breath”? Or, perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of “take a breath.” Chances are you’ve never given either of these common statements much thought, but there is quite a bit of power in our breath.

On average, a person at rest takes about 16 breaths per minute. This means we breathe about 960 breaths an hour, 23,040 breaths a day, 8,409,600 a year. Unless we get a lot of exercise, the person who lives to 80 will take about 672,768,000 breaths in a lifetime.

And we need those breaths because every system in the body relies on oxygen. From brain to belly, effective breathing can positively impact mental clarity, sleep, digestion, immune response, and stress. Unfortunately, shallow fast breathing can have the opposite effect, contributing to anxiety, muscular tension, panic attacks, headaches, and fatigue.

There is great power in something as simple as taking a breath. So let’s make them count!

Centering exercises are specifically designed to get you to increase and focus your attention and energy and/or to provide relief from stress and anxiety. Who doesn’t want both of those perks?

There’s something about being surrounded by nature that encourages me to stop and take a breath.

There are two main ways you can center yourself:

  • Body awareness – take a moment and focus on your body from head to toe. Take inventory of each body part and how it feels.
  • Breathing exercise – Imagining your breath as a circle, counting as you breathe in and out.

Let’s give it a try! Here’s a simple centering breathing exercise you can do anytime you feel like you miss your sense of calm.

Sit up with your back straight, your feet flat on the floor, sitting on the edge of your chair. Breathe in slowly through the nose to the count of four (1-2-3-4), slowly release through your mouth to the count of eight. Breathe into the count of four, release to the count of eight, exhaling all the air in your lungs. Try to take deep, slow, quiet breaths from your belly – just a few of them can help bring you closer to your center. If you feel tension breathing from your belly, start with breathing from your chest a few times.

Can you feel a difference? Deeper, focused breathing is a key that unlocks our center and gives us a sense of calm. There are three types of breathing – clavicular, thoracic, diaphragmatic – but the overwhelming majority of us – 9 in 10 adults – are only chest breathers. If you participate in a breathing exercise like the one I’ve provided, or one you experience through prayer, meditation or an exercise class, you come to appreciate what you’ve been missing.

I encourage you to be more intentional with your breathing every chance you get. For many of us, it may feel like we don’t always have the time for a yoga class – but you get ~23,000 breaths every single day. Make the most of them.

As Robert Heller said, “fear is excitement without breath. So stop and take a breath!”