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How Proper Breathing Improves Meditation

Taking a breath is the first thing humans do when they are born, the last thing they do before passing away, and every day in between, it is without question the most important process that occurs in the human body.

The human body can survive weeks without food and a couple of days without water, but only a few minutes without breathing and the body can no longer function. Despite the importance of this bodily process, few people take the time to focus on breathing patterns than spend time thinking about diet plans or beverage intake.

This is likely because breathing happens so automatically. The average human inhales as many as 23,000 times each day, and unlike the potent flavors of a tasty meal or the soothing qualities of a cup of tea, each breath an individual takes is just like the last and goes unnoticed.

Nevertheless, unhealthy breathing can be as bad for the health as unhealthy eating. To understand the full importance of this bodily function, highlighted below is an overview of how important proper breathing is for the human body, in addition to how focusing on breathing can improve meditation.

breathing About Breathing

First, breathing oxygenates the blood, which in turn travels to the muscles, brain, and vital organs. Any part of the body that is not given oxygen will soon die. Ischemia can occur if too little oxygen is being brought to a specific body part. 1

Additionally, breathing is an important part of expelling waste products from the body. Upon inhalation, oxygen is delivered to the lungs and blood. When exhaling, carbon dioxide and other toxins are released from the body. Without proper breathing, these elements collect in the body and lead to negative health consequences.

Signs of Improper Breathing

Not everyone takes the time to focus on their breathing patterns, however, improper breathing is in fact possible. Some signs of improper breathing habits include:

    • Holding the breath (when focusing, strength training, etc.)

    • Feeling a regular need to take a deep breath

    • Breathing in short gasps

    • Running out of breath, even when not participating in exercise 2

Conscious Breathing

Another important aspect of breathing is the link it forms between the mind and the body. There is a range of anecdotal and clinical evidence indicating that proper breathing habits, or the lack thereof, can affect the mental and emotional states.

Understanding these principles has led to the practices like conscious breathing as a method of managing the emotions and calming the body. In addition, conscious breathing can be a great supplement to a daily meditation routine. 3

Much like a musical ensemble, choppy, rushed, and shallow natural breathing detracts from the performance as a whole. When discussing breathing patterns, irregular rhythms can lead to disruptions in physical and mental processes which can also negatively affect emotions.

In Yogic teachings, inner conflicts, personality disorders, imbalances, diseases, and even destructive lifestyles all stem from a malfunction in breathing.

The breath, according to these teachings, is the all-important nexus where mind, body, and spirit connect. Regulating this link is the key to bring about a balanced “whole.”

Practiced regularly, conscious breathing allows the mind to turn inwards, away from external worries. This practice creates a deeper understanding of personal conditions and often leads to a healthier approach to life through greater balance in physical, mental, and emotional states.

In fact, studies have shown that simply practicing deep diaphragmatic breathing promotes calmness and inner peace. 4

meditation with essential oil diffuser necklace

History of Breathing and Meditation

The practice of conscious breathing has been used by mystics, magi, occultists, and spiritualists for thousands of years to induce changes in consciousness. By practicing something as simple as regulating the breath, they were able to push the limits of their bodies and minds.

The power to heal is one of the most important functions of the mind was shown to have in these altered states. Additionally, yogi and shamanic cultures highlight the importance of the bringing balance to the body, mind, and spirit through breathing.

Many of these practices were later incorporated into established systems of exercise and relaxation since before the dawn of the Roman Empire.

Although no one is sure where meditation first originated, the link between breathing and spiritual practices is evident across many cultures. This goes to show that the deepest levels of mental and spiritual awareness have a solid foundation in practices of conscious breathing.

Importance of Conscious Breathing in Meditation

Meditation is the process of gaining a much-needed perspective on life, especially during difficult times, through centering awareness on the present moment and the essential being.

Throughout the day and throughout most of our lives, humans focus awareness on the external, and it can be almost impossible to find the important link that pulls the awareness from external situations to the internal mind and full awareness of the present moment.

The link that allows the consciousness to turn in on itself, a reflexive action, is the breath—the connection between the mind, body, and spirit.

Consider how closely the physiological conditions of the body, mind, and emotions relate to breathing patterns. When the breathing is calm and steady, the body is presumably at rest. Heavy breathing can be indicative of excitement or exertion.

As emotional and mental stress levels rise, breathing patterns can also become erratic which can lead to hyperventilation. Shallow breathing can be an indication of stress, fear or worry, which is how the polygraph works to detect deceit.

The important takeaway here is that breathing exists on all planes of awareness, and is indicative of their current conditions. By learning to discipline the mind through breath, an important awareness of the internal is cultivated.

While the focus on a breath moving in and out may seem mundane, it is important to observe this action as a gateway to cultivating a much higher discipline. The awareness of the physical manifestation of the breath can lead to the awareness of the third constituent, the true entity that breathes these breaths which is the spiritual self. 5

Improving Meditation Through Conscious Breathing

One of the important advantages of adding conscious breathing into meditation sessions is a greater connection to the present moment.

Conscious breathing doesn’t have to be limited to a meditation session, however. The best part about conscious breathing is that it can be practiced anywhere at any time, especially if you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Of course, the most important time to incorporate conscious breathing is during meditation practices.

A Practical Exercise in Conscious Breathing

Conscious breathing can be done with the eyes open or closed to block out any distracting visual stimuli. Begin by taking a deep breath through the nostrils, expanding the diaphragm and abdomen before filling the chest cavity naturally—don’t force expansion.

Note, but don’t focus on, how the backbone likes to be straight and the shoulders relaxed as you inhale. Then, release the air from the lungs remaining fully relaxed, and keep awareness on the air traveling through your throat and out of your nose or mouth.

Don’t hold your breath after exhaling or inhaling, keep the movements fluid and naturally continuous, like the waves receding and returning to the shoreline.

Once you have become aware of your breath entering and exiting the body, stay aware of this deceptively simple action. Focus fully on the intervals between breaths and keep them flowing. Pay attention to your body when you exhale, and be sure you are fully relaxed.

After you have become fully aware of your breathing and the patterns are steady and easy, take time to cast your focus on your body as a whole. This can begin with your internal organs like the lungs and diaphragm.

Then radiate outward to the chest, shoulders, neck, arms, legs, hands, and feet. Do you feel tensions and resistance? Without moving your attention from your breathing, imagine each inhalation working like a healing elixir rippling through the tightness and releasing the tension. 6


Though breathing is autonomic and goes largely unnoticed, it’s clear from studies on conscious breathing that it does, in fact, have a more important function for the human body than we give it credit for. Next time you’re feeling stressed, try practicing conscious breathing at school or at work. Alternatively, incorporate it into your yoga or meditation session and reap the benefits that this additional practice provides.

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