How to … breathe for joy and vitality

Font Size:

Breathing has always been linked to the energy of life. Whether it’s the first breath of the newborn, the Christian tradition of God breathing life into Adam, or the Eastern traditions of yoga and martial arts that explicitly cultivate life energy through breathing practices.

The main problem with breathing is that it is so commonplace that we don’t notice just how powerful it can be as tool for managing mood and enhancing energy.

Different styles of breathing change with different moods and emotional states. When people are anxious, they often tend to breathe high in the chest, often with a gasping quality, holding the breath a little as if frozen. When asked to take a deep breath it is as if they are trying to cram a bit more into the top of the chest. For some anxious people it is like a mild panic, and the breath is high in the chest but faster. When people are depressed, they often sigh the breath out and the inhale is restricted. Although an exaggeration, it is often the case that anxious people don’t breathe out and depressed people don’t breathe in.

This means that the breath can be used to rapidly calm if anxious or lift energy. Breathing is calming if it is low (breathing lower into the lungs using the diaphragm), slow, and by extending the exhale. A simple calming breath is just to breath in through the nose then make a tiny opening in the lips (like breathing through a straw) and let the breath seep out slowly, like a slow leak. Another calming breath is to breathe in and out through the nose while drawing the air deep into the lungs (using the diaphragm), then extending the exhale by squeezing in the belly – let the belly be passive on the inhale.

To lift mood and energy a great breath is to breathe in slowly and fully, then passively let the breath out. A range of recent research suggests it brings the body into balance if you can slow the breath down to about five or six seconds in and five or six seconds out, but you should never strain, so just go as slowly as feels comfortable. 

As well as changing with specific emotions, our breathing patterns can change long term. After stressful events, we can have a tendency to over-breathe or under-breathe, as the body does not always reset itself properly. Best breathing is about balance and responding to the needs of the moment. You need to pump up your breathing during exercise, but over-breathing at rest links with stress and anxiety. Some research suggests that many older people under-breathe, and that this can link with poor health and low energy. Having a regular breathing practice is like a mix of exercise and meditation, and a nice practice is to breathe in slowly and fully, then let the air out passively to start and then gently squeeze out a bit more at the end by drawing in the belly – always gently and listening to your own body, so stopping if you have any discomfort. Doing several rounds like this tends to have a peaceful, revitalising effect, gently joyous.

How aware are you of the way you breathe? Do you find yourself taking shallower breaths when you become anxious?  

Dr Greg Smith is a psychologist and the author of Purposeful Breathing, which is available through Exisle Publishing.

If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.

Join YourLifeChoices today
and get this free eBook!

By joining YourLifeChoices you consent that you have read and agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy


How to create a great succulent display in a pot

Hannah Stephenson offers a guide to creating a beautiful display of succulents.

How to … stop slouching

Correct your lockdown slouch for both your appearance and your health.

Written by Dr Greg Smith


Total Comments: 1
  1. 0

    This is excellent advice. Correct breathing is one of the easiest ways to relax and improve your health but it’s also one of the most ignored.



continue reading


Small bedroom tips to maximise space and style

For many of us, house space is a fiercely contested commodity, and you need to squeeze the most out of...


Aussies much more willing to be vaccinated than Americans

The United States has had nearly as many COVID-19 cases as Australia has people. More than 400,000 have died of...


Goldie Hawn at 75: The Hollywood star's fashion and beauty evolution

Goldie Hawn, one of Hollywood's most beloved stars, is famous as much for her acting talents as she is for...


US still reels from the deadly consequences of 'alternative facts'

Jennifer S. Hunt, Australian National University Every four years on January 20, the US exercises a key tenet of democratic...


Tennis stars call Australian Open quarantine 'insane' and like prison

Entitled, pampered, whingers. Elite sports professionals victims of the greatest overreaction to COVID-19 in the world. Those are the poles...

Finance News

RBA reveals why retirees have to bear the brunt of low interest rates

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) knows that the negative consequences of low interest rates disproportionately affect retirees, but believes...


Blood pressure medication helps even the frailest seniors live longer

Taking blood pressure medication as prescribed helps seniors aged 65 and over people live longer. And the healthiest older people...

Estate planning & wills

Common mistakes when writing your will

It can be daunting and even overwhelming at times, but writing your will is an essential part of planning for...