How Breathwork Can Help Us All Become Better Listeners

July 08, 2021, Publisher: Breath Hub

Our ability to listen affects almost every aspect of our lives – from professional endeavours to personal relationships. But, even when we try to be good listeners, this ability can slip away with the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. There may be times we cannot pay attention to the planet, plants and animals, other human beings, and even ourselves. The World Listening Day on July 18th highlights the power of this vital ability we lose from time to time. In this article, we will discuss the connection between breathing and our ability to listen – and how we can become better listeners. 


The connection between breathing and listening


In the episode titled ‘Unlock the ancient secrets between listening and breathing’ of his award-winning podcast Deep Listening, Oscar Trimboli is joined by journalist and writer James Nestor. Nestor, the author of the book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, underlines the link between our ability to listen and the way we breathe. Whether we are good listeners can be related to our daily breathing habits and how we breathe as we listen.


Research shows that rapid and shallow breathing through the mouth can lead to attention disorders that weaken the ability to listen. Also, we may be good listeners in our daily lives but can experience the same lack of concentration when we start taking rapid and shallow breaths in stressful situations such as interviews or auditions. 


But – good news. With the help of conscious breathing, we can control the symptoms of attention disorders and stress response and improve our ability to listen. 


Listening and breathing under stress


When you are under heavy stress, the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the fight or flight response, kicks in. Physical tension increases, heart rate accelerates, and we take faster and shallower breaths. This system keeps us alive in dangerous situations – it is not designed for listening or speaking. Fight or flight response makes mental focus almost impossible to keep. 


How to breathe to listen better under stress


By taking slow and deep breaths, we can make the parasympathetic nervous system more dominant – the system that enables physical relaxation and mental focus. This, in turn, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, slows down the heart rate, and we get back our ability to listen. We can get ready for an important meeting by slowing down our breathing and control our stress levels by making sure we are breathing calmly as we listen. 


To become better listeners, psychologist and author Kenneth E. Miller recommends the “breathe before you speak” technique. Taking a deep breath before we speak stops us from (accidentally) interrupting the speaker and gives us a moment to reconsider what we are about to say. 


Attention disorders and breathing


According to experts, not breathing correctly can lead to an oxygen imbalance in the prefrontal cortex and cause attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People who take rapid and shallow breaths through the mouth can suffer from many problems like sleep apnea, as well as ADHD, which manifests as lack of attention, hyperactivity, forgetfulness and impulsiveness.


Studies show that people who regularly practice breathing 10 to 20 minutes a day have a significant decrease in their complaints related to ADHD.


How to breathe to combat attention disorders


Dr Richard Brown, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University, points to a breathing practice called ‘coherent breathing’ as an effective way of dealing with ADHD. Coherent breathing balances the autonomic nervous system and synchronizes heart, lung, and brain rhythms.


  • Slow breathing: We think we will inhale more oxygen when we take more breaths for an extended period – but it is actually the opposite. Oxygen is better delivered to cells when we breathe slowly as the heart, lungs and blood vessels work more efficiently. Breathing slowly calms the body and the mind, makes the parts of the brain that deal with complex problems function better, and strengthens the ability to focus.
  • Rhythmic breathing: Rhythmic breathing, where inhale and exhale times are equal, balances the autonomic nervous system. This way of breathing strengthens a mechanism called cardiac coherence that controls the stress response.


You can find more on rhythmic breathing and cardiac coherence here

  • Diaphragmatic breathing: As an effective relaxation technique, diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing) works quite well against attention deficit. Deep diaphragmatic breathing improves the health of internal organs, increases lung capacity, and in turn, the quality of breath. It balances our energy and calms our mind.


You can find more on diaphragmatic breathing here 

  • Nasal breathing: We should always be breathing through our noses throughout our daily lives unless stated otherwise in breathing sessions. Nasal breathing both controls the volume of air and makes the air moist, warm and clean.
  • Sleep breathing: How we breathe in and out during sleep is quite important. Experts say that airways are more open, and breathing is easier when sleeping on our side. As we inhale and exhale, our back expands as well as our chest and belly, but sleeping on our back restricts this airflow. This is especially important for people suffering from respiratory problems.


How do regular breathwork exercises help us become better listeners?


Regular breathwork exercises not only improve the way we breathe and improve our ability to listen but can also teach us how to be better listeners. First and foremost, when we breathe consciously, we learn how to listen to our bodies without getting caught up in the chaos of the mind. Focusing on the breath improves our ability to focus, helps us increase our awareness as we listen to our body without judgement. This awareness that starts from within reminds us to pay attention to the voices of other people, animals, plants and the planet. 


For more detailed information and hundreds of different breathing exercises, discover the Breath Hub app. You can find sessions that suit your needs and start your breath journey today towards a better and healthier life.