excerpt from my book, Feel Good Naked:

I am barely breathing
In the feature film, Ever After, Drew Barrymore’s character freezes at a crucial life-changing moment, anticipating what’s about to happen. She is paralyzed with fear and is reduced to her most basic instincts. She closes her eyes, and softly whispers to herself, "Just breathe." It’s worth noting: when our mental and reasoning capabilities fail, we find ourselves at the mercy of our bodies’ most elemental functions. Of those functions, none is more essential than breathing. You could say that breathing is life. Unfortunately, breath awareness seems most prevalent in moments of fear or panic. It is not until our hearts pound and our lungs jump that we notice our shortened inhale, followed by our hollow exhale. Fortunately, the importance of breathing is gaining recognition, with the increased popularity of mind/body exercises such as yoga, Pilates, and stretching. All of these practices focus on the fundamentals of breathing. People who regularly run, bike or swim are also aware of the necessity of conscious breathing. But whether you are active or inactive, you can benefit from the transforming experience of putting your lungs to work.
What exactly is conscious breathing? It’s really just another term for deep breathing. Breathing deeply and slowly for five minutes each day is one of the most effective ways to receive the full benefits of our amazing respiratory system, while minimizing stress. It is at the heart of relaxation, offering a surprisingly simple option for physical and psychological self-healing. Breathing in, we flood our bodies with the vital oxygen our red blood cells need to function optimally. Breathing out, we rid ourselves of carbon dioxide waste. I once heard breathing referred to as the preventive medicine of the 21st century. Conscious breathing energizes the body, calms the emotions, and sharpens the mind, providing our bodies with a natural source of alertness, vitality, and health. Researchers say it also slows the loss of vital lung capacity that often accompanies aging. As you breathe in fresh oxygen, you bring vital resources to the cells of the body and preserve the elasticity of lung tissue. You protect your capacity to live life fully. At the same time, production of carbon dioxide mounts as cells flush out waste products. Full exhalation releases spent resources that linger in the base of the lungs. When you breathe with awareness, each breath unites you with the power of life that surrounds and sustains you. 
Each of us breathes somewhere in the vicinity of 17,000 times every day, but very few of those breaths are deep, slow, effective breaths that can improve the function of our lungs, organs, and circulatory system, all the way down to the cellular level. What’s more, not only is effective deep breathing advantageous, but too-shallow breathing (the way most of us breathe, most of the time) has been linked to physical ills such as headaches and high blood pressure. Researchers have also found that shallow, rapid breathing can trigger our nervous system’s flight-or-fight response, which can make us feel anxious and exhausted. Besides enhancing our day-to-day health, conscious deep breathing can help us tap into what’s going on inside of us—wants, needs, the small but wise voice that is often drowned out in the noise of everyday life.
(photo by Toni Frissell)