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Most of us breathe without giving it a second thought.

It's an automatic bodily function that happens without us even having to think about it. However, the act of breathing can have a profound effect on our emotions. In fact, the way we breathe can actually influence the way we feel and move about life.

The Science of Breathing

When we breathe, we exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen in our lungs. This process is known as respiration, and it's how our bodies keep themselves alive. When we take deep breaths, we stimulate the vagus nerve—a long nerve that runs from our brainstem down to our abdomen. This nerve is responsible for regulating our heart rate and blood pressure. Stimulating the vagus nerve has been shown to have a calming effect on the body, which can help reduce anxiety and stress levels.

Four Types of Breathing

Most of us breathe without even thinking about it – it’s an automatic process that happens without any conscious effort on our part. But did you know that there are different types of breathing, and each has its own benefits?


Eupnea, or “normal” breathing, is the kind we do when we’re not consciously paying attention to our breathing. It’s likely what you’re doing right now as you read this. Eupnea is a slow and steady type of breathing that helps to keep our body oxygenated and relaxed.


Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as deep breathing, is a bit more deliberate. It involves using your diaphragm muscle – the large muscle at the base of your lungs – to push air out of your lungs. This type of breathing has a number of benefits, including reducing stress and anxiety, improving blood circulation, and relieving pain.


Costal breathing, or “shallow” breathing, uses the intercostal muscles between your ribs to expand your chest and pull air into your lungs. While it may not be as deep or relaxed as diaphragmatic breathing, it can still be helpful in situations where you need a quick burst of energy, such as when you’re running.


Hyperpnea, or forced breathing, is a rapid form of breathing that can be both inhaling and exhaling. It’s often used in emergency situations where someone needs to get oxygen to their lungs quickly, such as when they are drowning or suffering from smoke inhalation.

While we mostly breathe without thinking about it, there are times when it can be helpful to be aware of the different types of breathing and how they can benefit us. So the next time you take a deep breath, remember that you’re doing more than just filling your lungs with air – you’re also giving yourself a boost of energy, relaxation, and health benefits!

Breathing and Mental Health

When you take a deep breath, it sends a signal to your brain that everything is okay. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for functions like digesting food and regulating heart rate.

As a result, deep breathing can have a calming effect on our physical and mental health. It can also help to improve digestion and reduce stress levels. In addition, deep breathing helps to oxygenate the blood, which can improve brain function and increase energy levels. So next time you're feeling stressed, try taking a few deep breaths. You may be surprised at how much better you feel.

The Vagus Nerve

Breathing is an essential function of life, but it also has some amazing benefits that extend far beyond simply keeping us alive. For example, deep breathing has been shown to activate the vagus nerve, which is responsible for regulating mood, digestion, and heart rate.

The vagus nerve, also known as the "wandering nerve," is a long cranial nerve that runs from the brainstem to the abdomen. Among other things, it helps to control the muscles used for breathing. When we inhale deeply, the vagus nerve signals the body to slow down the heart rate and lower blood pressure. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and relaxation. When the vagus nerve is signaling rest, feelings of relaxation and calm cover the body.

Additionally, deep breathing sends more oxygen to the brain and other organs, which can improve cognitive function and overall health. So the next time you need to relax or rejuvenate, give the vagus nerve some love and just take a few deep breaths and let the benefits of this simple yet powerful act take effect.

Practice Deep Breathing Techniques


Many of us breathe shallowly and into our chests. When we're stressed, we tend to hold our breath or take short, quick breaths, which can lead to tension headaches, a fast heart rate, and lightheadedness. Diaphragmatic breathing calms the nervous system by lengthening the exhalation, which lowers the heart rate.

To engage in diaphragmatic breathing:

  1. Begin with one hand over your heart and one hand over your belly.
  2. Breathe in through your nose and let the air fill your belly. Keep your hands on your heart and belly and observe how the one on your belly moves while the one on your heart should stay the same.
  3. Draw your navel in towards your spine as you exhale as if you were blowing out birthday candles.
  4. Repeat this three to five times.

This type of breathing also massages the internal organs and strengthens the diaphragm muscle. Diaphragmatic breathing is a staple in many meditation and yoga practices.

Four Cycle Breathing

Four cycle breathing is my favorite breathing technique:

  1. Inhale for a count of four
  2. Retain your breath for a count of four
  3. Exhale for four
  4. Hold my breath out for four
  5. Repeat

If you're new to this breathing technique, retention might initially create more anxiety than it relieves, so try the basic inhale-exhale pattern until it can last for at least five minutes before moving onto breath retentions.

This breathing technique is simple and effective, and it only takes a few minutes to do. It's a great way to reduce stress and anxiety, and it can also help to improve your overall respiratory health.

The Power of the Breath

In addition to its physiological effects, breathing can also be a powerful tool for managing our emotions. When we're feeling anxious or stressed, our breathing tends to become shallow and rapid. This type of shallow breathing can actually perpetuate feelings of anxiety and make them worse. Conversely, when we're feeling calm and relaxed, our breathing is usually deep and slow. So, by simply changing the way we breathe, we can influence the way we feel.

Breathing in Nature

Breathing in nature can help lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, enhance immune function, reduce anxiety, and improve mood. According to a study done by Stanford University, looking at nature can also increase positive feelings and reduce negative emotions. The research suggests that there is a connection between looking at nature and the brain releasing dopamine.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with happiness and pleasure. Breathing in nature also lowers cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can have negative effects on the body if it is present in high levels for long periods of time. Being in nature can help to reduce anxiety by providing a sense of calm and peace. It can also help to improve mood by increasing feelings of happiness and positivity.

When to Partake in Breath Exercises

It may sound silly to you to set an alarm or timer to breathe, but it can help you ensure that you are getting these great deep breathing benefits regularly. Instead of rolling over and grabbing your phone when your alarm goes off, try for a few rounds of these breathing exercises.

Do It Prior to and During High-Stress Situations. Practice deep breathing exercises when you don't necessarily need them at first so that when you are feeling stressed and could benefit from it in the moment, you are already an expert at the type of deep breathing you want to utilize.

Don't Underestimate Yourself

The next time you're feeling stressed or anxious, try taking some slow, deep breaths and see if it doesn't help you feel better. Remember, your breath is a powerful tool that you always have with you. So don't underestimate its ability to help you manage your emotions and promote wellbeing!

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