By Renee Bucci, OT Reg.(Ont.)

Throughout the day, how often do you use your breath? Now, how often do you think about your breath? Or even think about it as a tool to help you cope?

Our breath is probably the most under-utilized and under-recognized tool that we have with us 24 hours of the day, 7 days a week, that is free, and can never run out. And the biggest challenge with using our breath? Simply remembering that it is there, waiting to be accessed. This may be obvious as you are reading through this column, however, consider this: we breathe from the moment we enter this world and right until the moment we leave it.

Mindful breathing has been shown to provide us with so many health and well-being benefits, such as improving our mood, decreasing anxiety and feelings of panic, giving us better control over ourselves, sharpening mental focus and attention, improving physical performance, and most importantly, helping us to be in the present moment. It is a powerful tool that can be used in almost any situation. For example, while in the waiting room for that job interview, while you’re riding the bus, prior to or following a difficult situation, while you are out for a walk or during a run, while listening to music, or right when you wake up to start your day. Truthfully, the list can go on.

I now want to encourage a quick check in: how’s your breathing? Are your shoulders hunched in? Are you taking short, shallow breaths that only expand into your chest? Or are your shoulders back with your posture upright, taking nourishing breaths right down into your belly? I recommend inhaling to a slow count of 4 seconds, and challenging yourself to exhale to a slower count of anywhere from 4-6 seconds. It might also be helpful to adopt a personal mantra to keep your mind’s focus while practicing mindful breathing – on an inhale: “I am aware that I am breathing in”, and on an exhale “I am aware that I am breathing out”, or anything of your own preference. It may feel a bit funny at first, but it will get easier over time and you will notice it will be helpful throughout your day-to-day life. The important thing is that you practice each day.

I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes about mindful breathing. It provides an excellent description of why being more mindful of our breath is important:

“Meditation is not to avoid problems or run away from difficulties. We do not practice to escape. We practice to have enough strength to confront problems effectively. To do this, we must be calm, fresh, and solid. That is why we need to practice the art of stopping. When we learn to stop, we become more calm, and our mind becomes clearer, like clear water after the particles of mud have settled. Sitting quietly, just breathing in and out, we develop strength, concentration, and clarity. So sit like a mountain. No wind can blow the mountain down. If you can sit for half an hour, enjoy sitting for half an hour. If you can sit for a few minutes, enjoy sitting for a few minutes. That is already good.”

– Touching Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh