I have witnessed firsthand the benefits of mindful breathing. Whenever we are anxious, our fear center hijacks our higher brains. Trauma also causes us to forget that then is not now because the timekeeper in our brain has gone a little awry. So we re-experience the past, often down to the sights, sounds, and smells. We each have our share of anxiety and trauma, so mindful breathing is one of the most important tools anyone should practice.
What I’ve realized, however, is that many of my clients who’ve been to mindfulness or meditation events, were actually breathing wrongly.
Here’s why. When we’re stressed or triggered, we often hold our breaths or suck in our tummies. Think also how we often tell each other to “Breathe in! Suck in your belly!” when we want a particularly flattering photo. Unsurprisingly, when we are told to breathe in consciously, we do the same. This leads to a feeling of tightness in our chests, which, when picked up by our brain, causes it to perceive that we are stressed out. It also triggers hyperventilation. It’s little wonder we feel worse.
Now, amplify that by 7,200 times. Assuming one breath per second, for two hours of meditation. Of course our chests are heavy, and we’re lightheaded.
From personal and professional experience, I’ve found that as little as three breaths are sufficient to reset our fear centers. As long as we are breathing correctly.
So regardless of how long you’d like to breathe for, let’s start with the basics of breathing. When you breathe in, you fill your belly with air, inflating it like a balloon. And when you breathe out, you empty your body of air. When you do this correctly, all your attention is so focused on the passage of air that you do not have any mental bandwidth to think.