breath techniques

Breathing into feeling: How to harness the power of your breath in different emotional states

breath techniques

Discover how our breath is affected by our emotionsand moods + techniques to move through them

Imagine having a tool with you everywhere you go — one you can use to help shift your mood, heart rate, thoughts, and overall state of being. This isn’t some new state of the art device, but rather, something inherent to our very nature. It’s one of the first things we do when we arrive out of the womb and one of the last things we let go of when our time is complete on this planet. As you probably guessed, that tool is our breath.

While many of us take it for granted, our breath is the ultimate supportive ally because it is both involuntary and voluntary; meaning our body naturally does it, and we also have the ability to control it. Being mindful of our breathing 100% of the time is unrealistic, but knowing how to use it is a potent way to help navigate the ever-changing moods and emotions of day-to-day life.

Below, discover how our breath fluctuates in different mood states and some breathing techniques to support those experiences.

1. Anxiety

When we are feeling anxious, our breath often becomes quick, shallow, and short, or we may even hold it. Our minds tend to race into future mode, and our body starts to respond to the perception of reality that we are creating. We usually breathe in the upper chest and build up tension in the jaw and face.

Once we are aware that we are feeling anxious, a helpful breathing pattern to try is box breathing.

Box breathing is typically done through the nose by:

  • inhaling for a count of four seconds,
  • pausing and holding the breath for four seconds,
  • exhaling through the nose for four seconds, and
  • then holding the breath again for four seconds.

Repeat this pattern, and with each round, see if you can breathe a bit deeper and slower, allowing the lower belly to expand and the chest to rise. Repeat until you start to notice a shift in your body. This technique gives the mind some structure and present moment repetition and gets the body to breathe in a rhythmic way, which ultimately helps brings the nervous system back into a more relaxed state.

2. Depression

Depression is a state of such intensity and depth that it can put a haze over one’s life and be extremely painful and challenging to cope with. Often, there are latent feelings in the body that want to be witnessed and felt but are blocked. We may hold our breath, or it can become very sparse, low, shallow, and quiet. Sometimes we may even only breathe in and out of a relaxed mouth very subtly.

To help, we should start to deepen our breathing by breathing in through the nose and then sighing out of the mouth. This is a powerful way to help move heaviness in our body. On the sigh, perhaps even let a sound come out to move even more density out of the body. Imagine if your feelings of depression could make a sound. What would they sound like? What would it be like to release that sound on the exhale?

3. Frustration and Anger

When we are feeling frustrated or angry, our breath often comes through the nose and can be very rapid, short, and tight. It can also have a very inconsistent rhythm, almost as if you are skipping a rock across water.

To work with these feelings, first and foremost, we want to acknowledge them and certainly not shut them down. Allow your frustration and anger to move through the body, using your breath to get them flowing. Inhale deeply through the nose and exhale out of the mouth as if you were blowing out a candle. Imagine you are breathing into the heat and tension you may feel in your body, and on the exhale, you are blowing it all out and cooling the body down. It is very important to remember that you aren’t telling yourself being angry is wrong, but rather, honoring the anger and transforming it in a healthy way.

4. Exhaustion and lethargy

When we are exhausted and tired, our breath can become very quiet, slow, subtle, and shallow. We may breathe into our bellies and chest but only take in tiny sips of air. It is important to honor your body and rest when you need it; however, if you are constantly feeling exhausted, you can use your breath as a tool to energize your system.

Breathe deeply in through your nose as if you are sniffing the air in while constricting the back of your throat a little bit. Imagine you have two straws in your nostrils and you are suctioning the air through them. On the exhale, blow the air strongly out of your mouth like you are trying to blow a marble across a table. Keep repeating, allowing the belly, chest, and rib cage to expand more as you do so. This will help increase lung capacity as well as energize the body.

Alternatively, you can breathe in through your mouth deeply as if you are sucking in the air like a vacuum and then again breathe out of your mouth. See how deeply and widely you can breathe. Perhaps pick up the speed of your breath a little bit to get more life force moving. Repeat until you feel a shift of energy in the body.

Your breath as your ultimate tool

Once we understand how to harness the power of our breath, it can be the ultimate tool to support us through the ups and downs of life. Because when we are really breathing, we are really feeling. So, the next time you are experiencing a heightened feeling state, activation, or response, try using your breath to move through it. The beautiful thing about breathing is that is so simple, yet it always — in all the ways — has your back.

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Breathing into feeling: How to harness the power of your breath in different emotional states