The Breath That Is Life

By Sharon Truelove

Breathing is life itself. It is one of our most easily observable vital signs. We take in air, extract the oxygen and expel carbon dioxide and other waste gases back into the atmosphere. Every cell of the body must have oxygen. Delivery of oxygen to the cells is accomplished via the bloodstream. This involves both the respiratory & circulatory systems. Failure of either system will result in rapid cell death.

There are many self-help techniques that can be easily learned and that can help us through a variety of situations ranging from stress reduction to pain control. Following are brief descriptions of some disciplines and directions for commonly used breathing exercises.


The first step in meditation is to stop distractions, clear our mind and make it more lucid. Choose a quiet place to meditate and sit in a comfortable position (cross legged on the floor or sit in a chair). The most important thing is to keep your back straight.

Breathe naturally, through the nostrils, without attempting to control the breath. Try to become aware of the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. It is the object of the meditation. Concentrate on it to the exclusion of everything else. Our mind will naturally wonder, and that’s ok. When the mind does wander, focus and bring your thoughts back to awareness of the feeling of the breath entering and leaving the nostrils. Repeat this as many times as necessary until the mind settles.


One of the principles of yoga is to promote proper breathing. This brings more oxygen to the blood and the brain. Yoga uses this principle with the Yoga postures

High Breathing involves raising the ribs, clavicle and shoulders. It is naturally shallow and much of the air does not reach the alveoli for gas exchange. It is the least desirable form of breathing.

Middle Breathing involves both high and low breathing. It tends to remain shallow and the ribs expand sideways.

Low Breathing is more effective than High or Mid Breathing, and is also known as abdominal breathing. To do low breathing, when you inhale push the stomach gently forward without strain. When you exhale, allow the stomach to return to its normal position.  Make sure to breath through your nose and not your mouth.

Pain Control

Below is a good deep breathing exercise from the National Cancer Institute:
You can do this while watching TV, at your desk, at a stop light, any time you’re in pain.
1.  Breathe in slowly and deeply. 
As you breathe out slowly, feel yourself beginning to relax; feel the tension leaving your body. 
2.  Now breathe in and out slowly and regularly (at whatever rate is comfortable for you).
3.  To help you focus on your breathing slowly and rhythmically: (a) breathe in as you say silently to yourself, “in, two, three”; (b) breathe out as you say silently to yourself, “out, two, three.” or Each time you breathe out, say silently to yourself a word such as “peace” or “relax.” 

4.  End with a slow deep breath. As you breathe out say to yourself “I feel alert and relaxed.” This may be done for up to 20 minutes.

24 thoughts on “The Breath That Is Life”

  1. Thank you Sharon this is a great topic. It is amazing how just stopping and breathing can fix so many things. Your always hearing someone say “just take a minute and breath.” Taking time each day just for yourself is very important and what a better way to do it. Just breathing with no talking. Simply amazing.

  2. Thanks for this! I love doing the yoga exercises on Thursdays and meditation can really come in handy when studying for big tests (or pain, however you choose to look at it) 🙂

  3. This is a good time for this blog. Not only is this technique good for relaxation & pain management but for stress as well. Especially during the husgle & bustle of the holidays!

  4. The breath that is life unfortunately is also the breath that is death, as each breath slowly kills us. With the addition of supplements and proper foods that eradicate free radicals we can extend our lifespan. One thing I learned in class that I never knew is that I am a natural stomach breather. I always thought I was odd, seeing many friends breathe differently, but their way of breathing is was so unnatural to me. I tried to change to fit in but failed abysmally. Thankfully.

  5. i love this post. I think the most important thing we’ve learned is breathing and how important it really is to concentrate in your breathing.

    -Brittany Raines

  6. I have started doing these exercises daily. It is amazing how much this helps. It also works well for breaking the bad habits.

  7. So true. I find it surprising that most adults breath in the low range. It is good to help people realize how little they are breathing and to help them to optimize their oxygen intake. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. I love meditation…I’ve even mastered the art of doing it through noise, bad children, and with other distractions around. Meditation helps me most for anger control!

  9. I had a client with migranes. Seeking help without meds. She was a waitress and saw my badge. During her session, I showed her breathing techniques. She called, in tears the folling day saying, I’m not in Pain! I am NOT in Pain! So, I believe highly in this excercise after losing my father to emphysema.

  10. Yoga is a great way to catch your breath and relax! It doesnt take long for your mind to relax and go off to a far off place. Wonderful exercise!

  11. My mind wanders so much when I try to meditate, having something to focus on hopefully will help me be a bit more successful. The hardest thing for me when I focus on my breathing is making it regular. I tend to get dizzy from hyperventilating or too deep of breathing. Counting during breathing seems like an easy solution to prevent these problems.

  12. I will be using these breathing techniques,plus after the first of the year I plan on getting into Yoga. Thanks for the info.

  13. I love meditation. It is a great way to refocus and relax yourself. It helps you to just bring everything into perspective. Thanks for this reminder about the usefulness of breathing techniques Sharon!

  14. This is a very good technique. I am gonna have to try this sometimes when I am doing homework, at school, or even watching tv. Hopefully this will help me when I am in pain!!

  15. I absolutely love doing yoga. It has been wonderful at school before test. I am hoping to dabble more into meditation.

  16. I really enjoyed taking the chance to stop and realize how much I take breathing for granted, after reading this, I noticed how much power and action goes into the tiniest thing that we do! What a great way to relax and bring everything back into focus.

  17. This technique of breathing has been around for such a long time but yet nobody really ever uses it to its fullest. I have been practicing different breathing techniques for sometime now and I have found that they really do help me get centered and relaxed. I know i can have myself asleep quicker then normal if I only consenrate on my breathing and I know I can deal with a stressful situation when they come up just from deep slow breathing. This is going to be great homework to send home with my clients. Thanks for the great info.

  18. Anxiety is something I face everyday. Exercise is controls it long term but yes it is only through controlling my breathing can I overt the acute attacks. Without sounding confusing breath is life. This above article is a reminder to me that every day I should practice more of these tech.

  19. when im busy doing something, or im straining, or even using a lot of energy breathing is the last thing on my mind. I noticed that when i get into deep massages that its me who forgets to breathe. I notice that i will be holding my breathe for no reason. Controlled breathing is definately something that i need to practice! thank you for the good tips and i will practice this.