The Healing Power of Breath: Stress, Anxiety and Depression

With the endless demands of modern life, we go beyond our capacity to give and then give even more. In this all consuming quest for survival, we sacrifice our health, happiness and peace of mind.

Stress has exploded into an invisible, $1 trillion health epidemic. That’s more expensive than the cost of cancer, smoking, diabetes, and heart disease combined.

The Facts

The National Institute of Health reports that emotional stress is a major contributing factor to the six leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, coronary heart disease, accidental injuries, respiratory disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.

An estimated 75 to 90 percent of all doctor visits are for stress-related issues.

fb blog article crazy stressed womanFurthermore, The federal government’s health statisticians figure that about one in every 10 Americans takes an antidepressant — and among women in their 40s and 50s, that number is one in four.

Chronic stress can even be a trigger for the onset of serious auto-immune diseases like Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease.


The Science

When in constant motion without time for adequate rest and rejuvenation, our natural stress  response goes haywire. Adrenaline and cortisol levels remain high; heart rate and blood pressure remain elevated.

The long-term activation of the stress-response system – and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones – can disrupt almost all of your body’s processes.

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Over time, sympathetic overdrive results in chronic fatigue, lack of focus, sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression and ultimately stress related illness. That’s why it’s so important to learn healthy ways to cope with the stressors in your life.


The Healing Power of Breath

Breath is your natural tool for healing and transformation. When controlled, it becomes a catalyst for healing, vitality and joy.

Our breath is the only part of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) that can be automatic or conscious. Three part yogic breath, deergha swasam, serves as an introduction to conscious breathing. With regular practice over time, this practice will promote positive health on all levels of your being.

Conscious deep breathing as a form of meditation elicits the relaxation response. The relaxation response, a phrase coined by Dr. Herbert Benson, Professor Emeritus of Mind Body Medicine Harvard University, is our ability to stimulate relaxation of our muscles, organs, glands, mind and nervous system naturally.
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Breath is a direct reflection of mind. Externalized awareness elicits the stress response – fight or flight. Rapid, shallow breathing is a reflection of this physiological state. Unbroken internalized awareness elicits the relaxation response – rest and repair. Slow deep breathing is a reflection of this psychosomatic state.

Three Part Yogic Breath – Deergha Swasam

Breath is life. It allows us to heal and become whole.

Within the breath is oxygen and energy; they are inextricably intertwined. Through specialized yogic breathing, stress dissolves and vitality increases. Body and mind gain deep rest.

During Three Part Breath, deergha swasam, research indicates we take in up to 7 times more oxygen than in normal, shallow breathing. Although Three Part Breath is a preparatory technique and technically not a pranayama or yogic breathing practices, it is the beginning of the practices. According to Sri Pantanjali, breath is the transition between inner and outer practices – relaxation and stress – consciousness and life. Through pranayama, we enter into the higher or inner yogic techniques.

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Prana means ‘vital energy’ or ‘life force’ and ayama means ‘to expand’. Pranayama is expansion of the vital energy. This vital energy supports and enlivens all of life’s experiences including physical and spiritual.

Practice Instructions

In the Three Part Breath, we breathe sequentially into the lungs – abdomen, chest and upper chest – inhaling fully and exhaling completely.

I have divided the practice into systematic steps to facilitate understanding. Remain at each phase until you can practice naturally with ease. Only then proceed.

Pranayama, yogic breathing, is one of the most subtle and powerful of all yogic practices. You must never strain.

The Practice

Step 1: Find yourself in a comfortable posture. Nose breathing yields best results. Eyes may remain slightly open or lightly closed.

Step 2: We will begin with a few cleansing breathes. Gently focus your full awareness on the incoming and outgoing breath. On inhalation, breathe in energy and light. On exhalation, release all toxins.

Step 3: On a long slow inhalation, direct the breath to the base of the diaphragm. The belly fills, ribs expand and collarbones to rise gently.
On a long slow exhalation, collarbones fall, ribs contract and abdomen empties.

Step 4: On inhalation, the entire circumference of the torso expands. As you inhale, belly, side waist and low back expand. This wave of expansion rises up the torso during the entire inhalation.

On exhalation, the entire circumference of the torso contracts. Collar bones fall, ribs contract and belly empties. This wave of contraction descends unbroken throughout the entire exhalation.

Remain here for a while. Don’t try to control the breath. Allow it to smooth and deepen naturally.

Step 5: You may experience a slight pause between inhalation and exhalation. This is natural. To unlock the breath, gently expand the inhalation and exhalation.

When you’ve inhaled fully, inhale just a bit more. When you’ve exhaled completely, exhale just a bit more.

Deep breathing gradually increases the tidal capacity of the lungs. The more oxygen you can breathe, the healthier you become.

Step 6: After the breath has smoothed, begin to develop equal length of inhalation and exhalation. Count the breaths using the mantra OM – OM1, OM2, OM3, etc. Mantra adds a spiritual dimension. Be here for a while counting the breaths.

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Step 7: At the top of the inhalation, hold the breath for a second or two and then exhale. This facilitates the exchange of gases – the release of impurities and absorption of energy and life.

Step 8: Allow the exhalation to become just slightly longer than the inhalation.

Step 9: To slow and refine the breath, use ujjayi breathing or ocean breath throughout. To perform ujjayi, gently closing the epiglottis down over the windpipe. This throat contraction occurs naturally when we whisper out loud. Some people refer to ujjayi as ocean breathing.

Step 10: Build the counts as your capacity develops. Gradually increase one second at a time. Eventually, stop at 12:24 ratio (12 seconds on inhale, 24 seconds on exhale).

Benefits and Use

Three Part Breath can be used as a stand-alone practice. It relaxes, develops breath control, reduces stress and anxiety, quiets the mind, increases tidal capacity, facilitates exchange of gases, provides greater oxygenation of the brain and enhances vitality.

You may use this technique any time you need to unplug and rejuvenate or feel you can’t make it through your day.


Margaret Glatfelter, Founder of the Lalitha Institute, is a Professor of Yoga and Energy Healing. She is one of a few Americans offering a traditional practice that has been handed down from teacher to student for literally thousands of years. Margaret offers classes, lectures and trainings internationally.

For more information on this and other topics, Margaret can be reached directly at (717) 577-5964. Call for your free consultation.



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    • Hi Donny,
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