The secret to feeling less stressed, more energised and much happier? As Anna Bonet discovers, it was under our noses all along


Tap into the power of your lungs

Every day, we take more than 17,000 breaths, but chances are this is not something you’ve given much thought to. If you’re anything like me, you only think about breathing when you find yourself out of breath at the top of a flight of stairs or during a yoga class (and even then, more time is probably spent noticing how bendy other people are). But this year, a swathe of books about the power of harnessing your breath have been published, and pre-lockdown, breathwork classes began popping up alongside Pilates and HIIT on gym timetables. It’s gone from mediation to mainstream. So what’s the big deal? Breathwork is more than just a wellbeing trend. As Dominique Antiglio, sophrologi­st at Besophro clinic, puts it, ‘The breath is a bridge between the mind and body.’ All of our thoughts and feelings interact with our bodies via the breath. ‘Every time we experience an emotion, the breath reacts to modify its rhythm and amplitude,’ explains Antiglio. ‘They are intrinsica­lly connected, so we should try to be mindful of our breath whenever possible, especially during more negative emotions.’ Whether we’re feeling stressed, sluggish or anxious, our breathing has the power to centre us and make us feel better. ‘When we harness breathwork, we can use our bodies to tell our minds to slow down,’ says Antiglio. ‘This is particular­ly helpful when we’re feeling overwhelme­d, or when thoughts are whirring.’ Although we don’t notice it at the time, what tends to happen during these moments of stress or worry is that our breathing becomes short and shallow. ‘In a stressed state, adrenaline is high and your inclinatio­n is to breathe quickly and with shallow breaths, which heightens your body’s feeling of anxiety,’ explains GP Dr Ismat Nasiruddin. The simple act of taking some slow, deep breaths will always be a quick-fix calming method.

It also gives you a sense of control. ‘Harnessing our breath helps us to process emotion – whether letting go of strong emotions or connecting with a state of confidence,’ says Antiglio. ‘Being able to tap into this when we most need it can lessen our everyday stresses and help us feel more in control of our lives.’

It sounds like a pretty good tool – and it’s not just our mental wellbeing that benefits. ‘By aiding relaxation, controlled deep breathing lowers the harmful effects of the stress hormone cortisol on your body and even improves your core muscle stability,’ says Dr Nasiruddin. ‘Stress leaves your immune system more susceptibl­e to numerous health conditions, so deep-breathing exercises can reduce these effects.’

The science is there to back it up, too. One study conducted by the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention in Iowa found that diaphragma­tic breathing helped to lower blood pressure. Meanwhile, another from Brigham Young University in Utah found that breathing at resonance frequency, which is six breaths per minute, appears to play an important role in lowering heart rate.

I don’t know about you, but I’m now committed to making more of those 17,000 breaths a day count. As Antiglio says, ‘Incorporat­ing just 10 minutes of dedicated breathing practice a day can help us become more mindful of our needs, strengths and limitation­s.’ So, take a deep breath and get started…

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