Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a healthcare professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.

Our breath is one of the greatest gifts that we have been given and our most powerful resource. It was given to us for free at our birth and waits for us to pay attention to it all of our lives. Our breath carries oxygen, consciousness and awareness to all of the cells of our body. Spiritual traditions all over the world have expounded on the power of the breath to transform your life on every level, the prerequisite being that we begin to pay attention to it.

We live in a world where many are overwhelmed and impacted by stress on a daily basis. When we are stressed, our body tenses and our breathing becomes shallow and more restricted. Often the diaphragm locks up and energy gets stuck in the chest. We can experience discomfort, overwhelm, anxiety and even panic as a result. This creates a negative feedback loop increasing the restriction of our breathing, causing us to engage in rapid shallow breath. We can prevent this cycle by beginning to practice conscious breathing.

On a physiological level, deep conscious breathing allows us to expand into the lower lobes of our lungs where there are serotonin receptors. When we take slow deep conscious breaths, our body gets a shot of serotonin, which is a feel good neurotransmitter. This is one of the reasons why runners often report feeling “high” after long runs. The great thing is, you don’t have to become a runner to experience this. You just have to learn how to breathe consciously.

Deep conscious breaths or belly breathing helps your body to down-regulate out of flight or fight and into a state of rest and digest. When we take slow deep breaths, we are helping our digestive, immune and circulatory systems function better. Not only do people feel more relaxed and connected to themselves, but their energy increases, their bowel movements often normalize and the body experiences less inflammation overall.

There are so many benefits to paying attention to and caring for your breath, these are only a few. I often recommend that people start with practicing three conscious breaths at a time several times a day to begin building breath awareness.

Start here: When you catch yourself agitated or you recognize that you have not been breathing fully, stop. Bring your awareness to just below your belly button and start to slowly inhale deeply feeling your abdomen expand. As you breath in count slowly to 4 on the inhale and then pause and slowly exhale to the count of 4. Repeat this three times. You can return to this practice as often as you feel called.

You will find that your breath becomes a sweet friend that you want to return to over and over again. As you begin to breathe more fully, your whole system starts to release tension and create a feeling of ease and expansiveness throughout your whole being. It will not only improve your own life but your relationships and your ability to connect beyond the “small limited world of me” to something much bigger and vaster. This is only the beginning.

Aiden Seraphim Lic.Ac. is Acupuncturist at Heart Center Transformational Acupuncture