Breathing courses and books on breathing are breaking into a market which can't seem to "inhale" them fast enough. As the World Health Organisation recognises stress as a 21st Century epidemic, the link between the way we breathe and our stress levels has been highlighted.
The science behind how we breathe and regulate our nervous system is clear. Diaphragmatic breathing is good for us, but the majority of people take shallow breaths and too many of them. In fact, many of us are breathing paradoxically. Although we can breathe without thinking about it, if you ask someone to inhale, many will suck their stomachs in as they draw in breath. This is back-to-front breathing. If you want to know how to breathe well, watch a baby when it sleeps and see how it's stomach rises with each inhale and falls during the exhale of each breath.
Over time, we lose this ability to breathe from deep down in the belly, and start to move the breath upwards. Taking shallow breaths. With prolonged exposure to stress, this style of breathing can become the body's natural breathing pattern.
However, it's not normal and this consitent pattern of breathing is thought to aggravate and contribute towards some chronic illnesses, like asthma, high blood pressure, insomnia and anxiety. The ancient Yogis knew about the breath mind connection. They used it as way to connect with their "higher self", and elevated states of consciousness. Modern practioners of breathwork are perhaps shifting away from the "woo woo" promises of reaching higher plains through the breath, but they do appreciate the link between the mind and the breath.
By using the breath as a point of focus, it helps the practioner to bring themself into the here and now. Being present, not worrying about the future or fixationg on past events. It's an easy guide following the rhythm of your breath. You can hear it, and feel it moving through the body. As you begin to take control over your breath and encourage the breath, deep into the lower lobes of your lungs, by focusing on the belly, you can feel the body beginning to respond and relax. Your nevous system begins to shift from fight and flight to rest and digest. By slowing the breathing, the brain perceives the body is safe, and it can relax.
With regular practice, with a qualified practioner you can access the powerful tool of your breath, to help regulate your nervous sytem, and build some internal resillience. Allowing you to cope and respond, rather than react to life's challenges.