Breathing is something we’ve all done since the day we were born, on average 22,000 times a day, and even with our eyes closed! So, it’s no surprise most of the time we take breathing for granted! However, in today’s frenetic paced society we are seeing higher levels of anxiety and stress, which is where actively focusing on your breathing can be very beneficial.
The ability to use breathing as a tool to calm your body is easy to do and has been used to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety by many cultures for centuries. People who experience chronic stress are more prone to having headaches, sleep trouble, chronic fatigue syndrome, difficulty concentrating, depression, anxiety and catching viral infections (increased inflammation in the body). There are suggestions stress may be linked to cancer, and even if the relationship is indirect (ie. stressed people develop bad behaviours such as drinking, smoking, overeating) the flow on effect can be detrimental. Which is why reducing stress is so important!
When using specialised techniques, such as the ones outlined below, you’re able to focus on the way you breathe, and when combined with a balanced diet and exercise will proceed with your journey to a happier healthier you.
Deep Belly Breathing
Sometimes referred to as abdominal breathing, this is a simple technique which only takes about a minute or two to do. Essentially it encourages a full oxygen exchange from your lungs, and in the process will lower your blood pressure, and slow your heartbeat. This results in a reduction in stress and increases the overall efficiency of your lungs.
It involves taking a long slow deep breath in through your nose, to the point where it engages your diaphragm muscle and then release the breath equally as slow out through your mouth. You can perform this from either a sitting or standing position, and often it helps to place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. It’s important to focus solely on your breathing and ignore any distractions from the outside world.
The sole aim of this technique is to return your breathing to its normal rhythm after a stressful experience. This is why Box Breathing is often used by members of the military, athletes, or anyone seeking focussed stress relief. Essentially there are 4 aspects of this exercise, each of equal importance, which are carried out in the same sequence and for the same duration (usually 4 seconds)
Inhale for four seconds. Hold your breath for four seconds. Exhale for 4 seconds. Pause for 4 seconds. Then repeat this rhythmic pattern several times until you have stabilised your heart rate. Closing your eyes should allow you to concentrate better on your breathing and allow you to enter a state of deep relaxation.
This exercise can go by a few names. Alternate Nostril Breathing, Pranayama, Nadi Shodhana or Yoga Breathing. It involves controlling your breathing in different styles and lengths with the aim to clear emotional and physical obstacles within our body. It achieves this by engaging and balancing the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which in turn will calm your nervous system and enhance focus.
To practice alternate nostril breathing, sit in a comfortable position keeping your back nice and straight. Use your preferred hand to reach your nose and place your other hand on your knee. Use your thumb to close one nostril, and inhale deeply through the other nostril. When your lungs are reasonably full take your thumb off your nostril and use another of your fingers on the same hand to block your other nostril, then exhale. Essentially you should be able to comfortably inhale through one nostril and out through the other, and you should repeat this process for several minutes. Once you get the hang of this you can try switching the nostrils you were using to inhale and exhale
The 4-7-8 breathing technique was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil and is a simple and effective exercise to aid in falling asleep. By using this technique, you’re able to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your body’s digestion and getting rest.
This technique is somewhat similar to Box Breathing, but it perhaps a little more advanced. Begin by sitting or lying down and close your eyes. Take a deep breath in through your nose and count for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for seven seconds before slowly exhaling loudly through your mouth for eight seconds. Ideally you should look to repeat this cycle three times, focusing on the sensation of each breath and allowing your body to release tension while exhaling.
Depending on the specific benefits you’re looking for, incorporating these breathing exercises into your daily routine can have a profound impact on your mental and physical well-being. Whether you’re seeking relaxation, stress relief, or a way to regain focus, these valuable techniques can help you find peace and restore balance in your life.
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