Have you ever been out in a natural setting, like a woodland, beach, along a river bank or up a hill, and felt, well, just better for it?
There’s a reason for that.
Actually there are many!
I think it can be helpful to know why certain things we are innately drawn to doing can help us feel better, so, that’s what this series of blogs is all about.
What’s the first thing you do when you arrive on the beach, wind in your hair, gazing out at the waves?
What about when you step into the cool of the woods, wind rustling the leaves overhead, dappled sunlight on the spongey floor beneath your feet?
Or when you’re standing at the summit of a hill, drinking in the view below, sun on your face, buffeted by the wind?
That’s right; you B R E A T H E.
And not just any old breath, right?
These moments elicit the full-on deep breath contentment of arrival, of witnessing, of being alive and truly living this moment. And we do it without thinking.
Nature has a way of making us automatically switch from our modern-day habitual shallow breath to our true, natural, full breath, without our conscious thought.
Breath and emotions
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, we store grief in our lungs. “Grief and sadness directly affect the lungs. If we are unable to express these emotions or are being overwhelmed by them, it will weaken the lungs and compromise their main function: respiration.”
This resonates from an everyday point of view too – we often feel that we have a weight on our chest, or say that out heart is breaking when we experience sadness or grief. The problem is that when we are unable to process these feelings, they can cause us to breath only shallowly, as we shy away from feeling the pain of these emotions.
Breath and stress
The same happens when we are in stressful situations – short, shallow breaths are the default, with a corresponding increase in heart rate, so that we can run away from the threat.
The problem is that this stress response, that served us so well during our evolution, has been hijacked by our modern living and kicks in to emails from the boss, or traffic jams. Daily occurrences that aren’t life threatening, now cause us the same physical responses.
Combine this with incomplete stress cycles, and most people are living with the sympathetic nervous system activated most of the time.
This is not good news.
Stress is not just a mental construct.
Stress affects us physically, and negatively effects pretty much every bodily system; respiratory, cardio-vascular, digestion, immune, endocrine (hormones), reproductive.
Stress causes stomach ulcers, heart attacks, cancer. It can literally kill you.
The easiest way to dial down the sympathetic nervous system (the fight, flight, freeze system) and boost the para-sympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest system) is to breathe deeply.
Slow, full, deep breaths in and out.
The vagus nerve picks up breath depth and speed from the diaphragm. Slow, deep breaths cause the vagus nerve to tell the heart to slow down. A slower heart beat is relayed by the vagus nerve to the brain, and the brain gets the message; no threat here. As a consequence, cortisol (the stress hormone) levels fall in the body, and all the maintenance activities of the body, that are vital for your long-term survival, like cell regeneration and growth, picking up and fighting infections, healing of tears and rips in muscles and tissues, digesting food, can take place again.
Life giving breath
We all know our life depends on our breathing.
When someone stops breathing, death often follows.
And yet how many of us are consciously aware of this fact on a daily basis?
How many of us are aware of the life giving nature of each and every breath we take during our waking and sleeping hours?
And how many of us really take the time to connect with, deepen and celebrate this breath?
Our breath is life giving in more ways than most of us are aware of most of the time.
So, taking full, deep, slow breaths is really important.
The fact that natural environments cause us to do this naturally, without any conscious thought, is just one way in which they reduce our stress levels and cause us to feel better.
Get out in nature
If you’d like to get out in nature and experience some of the deep breath stress-reducing benefits for yourself, why not join me on Tuesday 20th July for a guided Forest Bathing Experience?
More details and tickets can be found here: