Reading Your Breath

Your breath is a window into your mental and emotional state. Erica Rodefer Winters tells explains how she follows her breath's signals to come back into balance.

Take a slow, deep breath. Go on, we’ll wait. Now, isn’t that better?

There’s something about slowing down your breathing that eases tension in your body and calms your mind. Of course, as yoga students we know there’s a profound connection between breath, body, and mind. What you do with one affects the others. And since breathing is something you practice all the time—and it’s not a disruptive as busting out a Down Dog in the middle of a grocery store or at work—breathing has to be the one place my yoga training has impacted me most in my daily life. I can check in with my own breath anytime to gain a somewhat objective and honest look into what’s going on with me. Am I stressed or anxious? Am I calm? Am I depressed? Am I energized? Then by making a conscious effort to change my breathing pattern, I can impact my mood and how my body reacts to my mood, too.

Here’s how I follow my breath’s cues throughout the day.

Shallow, chest breathing. This is the universal sign of stress—and when I notice myself doing it, I know I need to take a deep breath and really access the situation and put it into perspective.

Held breath. When I’m holding my breath I’m usually trying too hard at something—sometimes it’s a yoga pose, sometimes I’m thinking a little too hard on the word I’m going to play next on Words with Friends. Either way, it means I need to relax a little.

More exhale than inhale. When my exhale is longer than my inhale, there’s a good chance that I’m feeling defeated or depressed. Finding more equilibrium and consciously extending my inhalation gives me more energy and helps me to

Balanced breathing. On those occasions when I’m feeling calm, controlled, focused, and just plain happy my inhales and exhales will be the same length and go deeper into my diaphragm. It’s kind of astonishing how infrequently I notice this type of breathing—usually just during Savasana, my morning meditation, or before I drift off to sleep.

How does your breath help you in your daily life?