When someone gives you advice, you may doubt it, reject it, or simply forget to apply it. It certainly depends on the charm and power that person has over you. When an animator introduces you to something, you immediately recognize it and want to try it.
After my first episode of depression and a series of panic attacks, I was initially introduced to artificial respiration. At the time, it was a reasonably effective life jacket. Despite this, I was unaware of its significance, associating it solely with mental health tools and, at best, a hazy connection to vocal training. Controlled breathing was associated with visual meditation for some reason, and since I couldn’t help but find the latter crazy and pretentious, the usefulness of breath practise was discounted as well. It wasn’t until its recurring appearance in The Demon Slayer that I began to study it in depth, understanding how it works and its overall importance.
In Demon Slayer , breathing is not only mentioned in the name of the attacks, but it is an integral part of the preparation of the movements (the breaths/inhales are visible on the edges of the mouths of the characters) and of a strict training aimed at improving their endurance, concentration and general physical strength. After being sent to recuperate from a grueling battle that left them in tatters, our heroes learn the secret of the strongest among them: the Hashira have learned to maintain full concentration by breathing 24 hours a day, even while sleeping. It took Tanjiro, who had already been trained at altitude, a lot of perseverance before being able to master all the exercises /and/ maintain this type of breathing.
Breathing affects our health in two ways: through rhythm and through oxygen concentration. Oxygen is easier to understand; if we have a balance between the oxygen we inhale and the carbon dioxide we exhale, we get the best fundamentals. If we breathe through our mouth or through our chest, our system does not get enough oxygen. Instead, we can get the optimal amount through diaphragmatic breathing. With a better supply of oxygen, we have better blood circulation, and therefore we can push our body further, its capacities increasing. Athletes have known this for a long time.
To understand rhythm, one must know that humans contain rhythm as much as they create it. When we walk or rock a baby to sleep, we create a rhythm. Our heartbeats are a predetermined rhythm and our breathing is also rhythmic, although we can slightly control it. At the end of the 17th century, scientists performed an experiment in which three different pendulums swung at different rates and eventually synchronized. This phenomenon is called entrainment. The same phenomenon occurs with our breathing, our heart rate and our headspace. The weaker the breathing, the more the heart rate increases; and the higher the heart rate, the more stressed we feel, because the parasympathetic nervous system interprets the response of the heart as a state of alarm. Thus, controlling and slowing down our breathing calms us down. Therefore, we can make better decisions and not burn out either.
Relearning how to breathe correctly and more efficiently is not an easy task. Our hectic lives filled with social media disrupt our work of breathing. Just take small steps and be consistent.
Breathly by Matteo Mazzarolo. This application is above all free and without advertising. It’s elegantly simple and offers the most extensive range of breathing exercises I’ve encountered, as well as a customisable option. You can also customise the length of your workout, the voice or bell that you use, or simply the stillness that aids and guides you during your meditation.