As a physician entering a yoga studio for the first time more than 10 years ago, I will never forget my confusion upon hearing the words, "Connect to your breath."
I sat in a comfortable seated pose on my yoga mat, and my mind wandered back to physiology and neuroanatomy classes in medical school. We learned the complicated mechanisms by which the brain controls our respirations through our autonomic nervous system. This control inherently happens without our conscious minds even being aware of our breathing rate, quality of our breath, or effort into our inhalations and exhalations.
Are you aware of your breath right now? I wasn’t aware of my breath until I couldn’t breathe anymore. Career burnout and life-threatening illness sent me on a journey traveling around the world studying various yoga and meditation techniques. I was reminded of the power of connecting to the breath when I realized I felt better integrating yoga, pranayama, and meditation into my healing.
When I connected to my breath, the physical and emotional pain I was suffering would go away, and my mood would feel calm, focused, and happy. It was during these mindful practices that clues to my life purpose started to surface.
The breath is more powerful than you may suspect. Here are three reasons to pay more attention to it:
1. Breathing connects us to the present moment.
Mindfulness is a term we often hear, but what does it mean? It's as simple as breathing.
The problem for many of us is that we aren't aware of our breath. Being aware of our breath connects us to the present moment. In this present moment we are connected to our dreams and desires. When we're stuck in the past, we can feel depressed or hopeless. And when we lose hope, we cannot heal. When we're worried about the future, it fuels anxiety.
This is why I wanted to learn how to take mindfulness from the meditation mat into a mindful way of living. By consciously breathing, we take the peace we foster in our meditation practices into our daily lives.
2. Conscious control of breathing reduces stress.
Anxiety, depression and insomnia are examples of stress-based illnesses that are rooted in the mind’s perception of external stress. By consciously controlling our inhalations and exhalations, we start to shift our autonomic nervous system from a flight-or-fight response to one of the relaxation response.
When the brain switches to the relaxation response, the heart rate and blood pressure will decrease, and the brain will regain focus and mental clarity. In this state of breathing and meditation, we also retrain our brains to change our perception of stress, thus reducing our propensity to feel anxious or depressed.
3. Breath connects you to your life purpose.
Career burnout arises when our external world is not in alignment with our internal soul compass. The way we find our life purpose is being aligned with our internal soul compass. Our internal soul compass is the place within us where all the answers reside; some call it intuition, gut instinct, or internal wisdom. It was during the mindful practices of pranayama, yoga, and meditation that I learned to focus on my breath, and then clues to my life purpose started to surface.
How do we connect to our internal soul compass? Breathe. To learn the mindful living steps of how to reduce our stress response and connect to our life purpose, watch my TEDx talk.