Thursday, April 30, 2015

Enjoying the Exhale: Breathing in Creativity & Wellness

By: Jennifer Quarrie

Breathe with unconditional breath the unconditional air.  - Wendall Berry, Given

Life hangs on every breath we take; yet when was the last time you consciously thought about your breathing?  Within every activity you do, breathing plays a critical role - from speaking and exercise to sleeping and nutrition.  What is there to really think about?  The body takes care of breathing through some ancient autonomic system, so why use precious, limited thought resources on it when you could spend your energy on more important cognitive pursuits? 

Beyond the life-saving qualities of a good breathing habit, there is much more at work.  It turns out that breathing is foundational to overall wellness in ways we may not have previously understood.  Not only that, but deliberate, deep breathing also fosters creativity, decision making and other key cognitive and affective functions.  Simply put, improving your breathing is one of the single best practices you can develop to foster your health and creativity and here is why.


It is a common belief that we breathe with our lungs alone, but in point of fact, the work of breathing is done by the whole body. Alexander Lowen, The Voice of the Body

     Increased Oxygen - On the most basic level, deep breathing increases oxygen levels in the blood stream, helping to raise energy, cell survival and brain function, all of which support creativity.  The way we exhale is actually more critical to getting the oxygen we need and should generally last longer than the inhale.
     Metabolism - Oxygen is fuel.  By taking in greater amounts, it charges your cells to function more effectively, improves digestion, and thus improves your metabolism.  Increased overall energy means more resources can be directed towards creative endeavors.
     Sleep Quality - Deeper, healthful breathing while awake helps keep us alert and focused on important tasks.  During sleep it significantly improves sleep quality, extends dreaming brain states, supports neural connections, and facilitates the clean up of toxins in the brain, bringing clarity to waking cognition and creativity.
     Relaxation & Stress Reduction - Deep breathing lowers cortisol levels, normalizes blood pressure and stabilizes body rhythms, all of which foster mental clarity, relax your body, and prime you for creative insight.
     Immune Function - Breathing is the best way to change the pH of your body toward an alkaline state that helps prevent large-scale disease.  By expelling carbon dioxide from your lungs and breaking down salts, breathing is one of the most affective ways to eliminate extra harmful acids.  Every exhale removes toxins from your body, just one of the many reasons yogis consider breathing a path to purification.


Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.   Thích Nht Hnh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation

     Focus - Breathing is the primary mode of mental focus in meditation.  By calming the body, breathing can increase the ability to focus attention, which is critical to successful problem solving and ideation.
     Awareness - Deliberate, deep breathing can also take focus a step further and assist the mind in expanding your awareness of yourself and your surroundings.  Developing this new consciousness helps you take in new stimuli, clarify needs, and highlight priorities, all critical to creative thinking and problem solving.
     Managing Emotions - Our emotional states may be partially predicated on our proactive breathing patterns.  Breathing is more shallow when anxious or depressed.  Deeper breathing promotes positive emotional states and a greater sense of calm, both of which empower creative thinking through finding the value in ideas and focusing energy toward problem solving.
     Motivation - Increased energy from deep breathing directly impacts motivation levels.  Motivation is considered one of the only commonalities across all eminent creators.


I am never alone wherever I am. The air itself supplies me with a century of love. When I breathe in, I am breathing in the laughter, tears, victories, passions, thoughts, memories, existence, joys, moments, and the hues of the sunlight on many tones of skin; I am breathing in the same air that was exhaled by many before me. The air that bore them life. And so how can I ever say that I am alone? C. JoyBell C.

Taking in the World - Breathing is a very physical way of connecting with both our environment and others in it.  As Alexander Lowen says, we live in an ocean of air, and so to breath deeply we immerse ourselves in our environment.  Taking this mindful vantage point prompts us to immerse ourselves more deeply in our surroundings in other ways as well: noticing things we normally overlook, taking in more information, and making new connections that prompt creative ideas. 

Social Connection - Given that our emotions build on our breathing patterns, deliberate deep breathing may increase how positively we experience social interactions, therein leading to a more positive and less anxious mental state.  An affirmative mindset is crucial to the ability to build on ideas and find creative solutions to problems.  The social aspect of our environment is also especially stimulating and can serve as a wellspring for novel connections. Further, an increase in positive experiences may lead to an increase of social interaction over time, therein increasing personal longevity and lifespan.

Breath of Fresh air

Breathing pervades every moment of every day and is an incredibly healthful habit to consciously develop.  Likewise, creativity is omnipresent throughout each day, and actively fostering the creative mindset expands the quality of each experience.  Weaving these two deliberate practices together promotes personal wellness on a grander scale.  The bottom line, in both breathing and creativity, is to stay out of the shallow end - there is benefit to getting in deep. 

And the next time you find yourself waiting for inspiration?  Dont hold your breath.

Broad, W. J. (2012). The science of yoga: The risks and the rewards. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Gates, R., & Kenison, K. (2010). Meditations from the mat: Daily reflections on the path of yoga. New York, NY: Anchor.
Grof, S., & Grof, C. (2010). Holotropic breathwork: A new approach to self-exploration and therapy. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Robin, M. (2010). Wellness on a shoestring: Seven habits for a healthy life. Unity Village, MO: Unity House.
Ross, S., & Rosewood, O. (2003). Happy yoga: 7 Reasons why there's nothing to worry about. New York, NY: Regan Books.

Bio: Jennifer Quarrie is a dynamic innovation strategist and creativity expert with a visionary outlook and a knack for metacognition, facilitation and listening.  With a BA in Cognitive Science from the University of Virginia and an MSc in Creative Studies from the International Center for Studies in Creativity (ICSC) at SUNY Buffalo State, she incorporates budding areas of mind and creativity research into all of her work.  As a leader and speaker she inspires wellness, fosters transformation and emboldens self-actualization.

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