The Benefits of Conscious Breathing by Kim Scullion

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The Benefits of Conscious Breathing by Kim Scullion

DSC_0088Conscious Breathing Versus Normal Breathing
At the beginning of yoga class you may hear your instructor direct you to, “Connect with the breath,” or “Cultivate ujjayi breath,” or “Begin diaphragmatic breathing.” He or she is instructing the class to breathe consciously. Our bodies breathe on their own, all day long, whether we are awake or sleeping, whether we are aware of our breath or not, the body is hardwired to breathe, unconsciously and without assistance from our thoughts.

What Are the Benefits of Normal Breathing?
Without going into an entire blog post on nutrition and the importance of breath in order to process the food we eat, I will summarize the benefits of normal breathing by quoting Glenn Murphy who writes for the Science Museum in London and explains, “We breathe to capture oxygen, which helps us convert food into energy in our cells, and to get rid of carbon dioxide – the waste gas which is formed as this happens. Our lungs pump these gases in and out of our bodies, and help us dissolve them in and out of our blood.”

What Are the Benefits of Conscious Breathing?
Conscious breathing calms the mind. When we calm our thoughts we can gain a greater understanding of self. I spoke with Lauren McLaren, a skilled and registered yoga teacher that specializes in pranyama, and she describes the benefits as, “an elevated state of consciousness that leads to equanimity; in other words, the ability to roll with the punches of life. You are effecting the nervous and endocrine system and putting yourself in a place of wellbeing.” McLaren also points out that conscious breathing reduces the stress hormone cortisol and produces oxytocin which is a feel good hormone.

How To Consciously Breathe:
Slowing and controlling the length and frequency of your inhalations and exhalations is conscious breathing. Just those actions alone are enough to get some of the benefits. There is an entire yoga practice, called pranayama, that outlines the path and specific practices that lead to attaining all the benefits of conscious breathing. According to McLaren this practice is the “beginnings of that gateway into that state of elevated consciousness.” She elaborates, “the moment you turn your attention to your coming and going of respiration you create a union of: physical body, present moment awareness of the mind, and conscious breathing. That makes it yoga.”

Practicing Conscious Breathing, i.e. Pranayama:
While you take any yoga class, all instructors are guiding you toward a pranayama practice. It’s woven into the context of their sequence. Listen for their breathing cues during the next class and see if you can strengthen your practice of conscious breathing. You can also take a yoga class in which the entire hour is dedicated to conscious breath. At Pilgrimage of the Heart we offer several pranayama classes, in studio and online, and we’ve entitled them “Yogic Breathing: Pranayama.” Through the instruction of McLaren, students are guided through several exercises that cultivate an acute practice of conscious breathing. You may find it nice to know that this class can be taken seated on the floor, lying on the floor or seated in a chair. Wherever you are comfortable within the room, you can practice these breathing exercises with ease.


McLaren, Lauren, RYT. “Pranayama.” Telephone interview. 30 Oct. 2014.

Murphy, Glenn. “Ask Glenn.” Why Do We Breathe and Why Do We Need Lungs To Do It? N.p., Oct. 2007. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.

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