Breathing Mindfully is a Centering Skill. “Breath Deeply. Feel it Completely.”
Where in my body do I feel my breath?
By pausing and taking slow, full breaths, we calm ourselves. When we pay attention to the sensations of our own breath inside us, we concentrate on our body and bring our mind to rest. Breathing intentionally can help us relax and reduce our stress
Breathing mindfully prevents the amygdala from overreacting to potential threats and increases the coordination between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. Focused attention to breath has an emotional regulatory effect that is related with decreased amygdala and increased prefrontal-parietal cortex activation. The amygdala recognizes threats and sounds alarms while the prefrontal cortex signals whether the alarm is justified.
Breathing mindfully also increases the activity of the vagus nerve, a part of the parasympathetic nervous system. The vagus nerve controls and also measures the activity of many internal organs. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, calmness pervades the body. The heart rate slows and becomes regular, blood pressure decreases, and muscles relax. When the vagus nerve informs the brain of these changes, it too, relaxes, increasing feelings of peacefulness. Thus, the impact of breathing mindfully works through both neurobiological and biological mechanisms.
Some research suggests that reversing homeostatic alterations with meditation and paced breathing techniques rather than targeting neurotransmitters with medication may be a superior method to address the whole body changes that occur in stress, anxiety, and depression.
Significant associations have been found between respiration, heart rate variability (HRV), autonomic balance, and personality traits known to promote physical, mental, and social aspects of well-being, associated with balanced emotion.
Doll, A., Holzel, B., Bratec, S., Boucard, C., Xiyao, X., Wohlschlager, A., and Sorg, C. (2016). Mindful attention to breath regulates emotions via increased amygdala-prefrontal cortex connectivity. NeuroImage. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.03.041
Li C, Chang Q, Zhang J, and Chai W. (2018). Effects of slow breathing rate on heart rate variability and arterial baroreflex sensitivity in essential hypertension. Medicine (Baltimore). 97(18):e0639)
Jerath, R., Crawford, M.W., Barnes, V.A. et al. Self-Regulation of Breathing as a Primary Treatment for Anxiety. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 40, 107–115 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10484-015-9279-8
How to Practice-Model-Coach Breathing Mindfully
A few times a week to set aside a 1-5 minutes to practice Breathing Mindfully. It is helpful to do this at varying times and increase the amount of time. Practice Breathing Mindfully until you feel comfortable engaging your breath for 5 minutes.
When you find yourself feeling off centered, communicate to others that you are going to take a moment to breathe mindfully. After taking a moment to breathe, share how you are feeling after taking that time.
Invite others to practice breathing all together. Share your practice with them and create a breathing routine.
Lead others through 1 min of Breathing Mindfully: Start with one full breath. Put one hand over your heart and one hand on your belly. Breathe in slowly through your nose while mentally counting to three. Focus on the sensation of fresh air passing through your nostrils and coming into your lungs and be aware of how it feels inside your body as your diaphragm begins to drop and your belly expands and contracts. Pause, relax, and then exhale through your mouth as you release the old air, counting slowly to five. This is one mindful breath.
As you breathe mindfully several more times, focus on the sensations. As you breathe, notice…