“When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace”
Breathing exercises can improve your life…
One of the key factors, if not the biggest reason behind my recovery from anxiety, depression, POTS and physical aches and pains has been focused around breathing exercises. I truly believe that practising different types of breathing exercises on their own or coupled with positive psychology, with relaxation techniques or different types of meditation, can change your life.
I have chosen to write this blog post to share some of my personal experiences and to give you all a little insight into what introducing controlled easy breathing exercises into your daily routine can do for you. I also wanted to share examples that I have personally tried and often use.
What is a breathing exercise…
You could think of breathing exercises as just that…. exercise for the breath. It’s a specific practice designed to bring control to the breath. To train yourself to breathe a different way. When we are stressed, tense, overwhelmed or angry we tend to take very short shallow breaths. This can cause those feelings to worsen and cause physical changes also.
Learning to change the way you breathe and making that change as often as you can in your day or during a stressful or overwhelming situation can relieve some of those feelings. There are MANY kinds of breathing techniques that can be learnt, they can be used to target specific problems such as stress, anxiety, sleep problems etc.
You will find that some just don’t feel right to you or don’t seem to help but keep trying. It takes time to master each technique and time for your body to become used to the new change and show its benefits.
What are the benefits…
There are loads of benefits to practising regular breathing exercises, here are a few great examples:
- Boost Mood – studies today are showing more evidence that our breathing is linked to our mood. Using breathing exercises can improve your mood overall.
- Improve Sleep – using a breathing technique before bed is a great way to get a better nights sleep.
- Reduce Pain – breathing techniques can relax your muscles which reduces aches and pains
- Slow Heart Rate and Lower Blood pressure – deep breathing can actually slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure
- Increase Energy – deep breathing improves oxygenation of the blood which can improve your energy levels
- Stress Relief – deep breathing is great for releasing tension and stress, reducing anxiety and bringing feelings of calm and happiness due to increased production in certain chemicals in the brain.
- Improved Digestion – learning to breathe through the belly and not the chest actually helps your digestive system.
- Balance Autonomic Nervous System – it is believed that diaphragmatic breathing can help to balance your nervous system by increasing parasympathetic nervous system activity and reducing sympathetic nervous system activity.
As you can see there are plenty of reason why you should try implementing a breathing technique into your daily routine.
Examples of breathing exercises…
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing –
This is my absolute favourite style of breathing, it really works for me. I can use it any time to really calm and centre myself. I practice this in conjunction with the coherent breathing technique (number 6) every single day.
Here is how you do it:
- Lie on the floor in a comfortable position, I like to lay on my yoga mat in a “corpse pose”. You can do this sitting up but it is more difficult so might be better practised laying down first and then with practice you can work up to sitting.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other hand on your diaphragm which is just below your rib cage
- Focus on breathing slowly and deeply in and out of your nose… notice the rise and fall of your belly. You don’t want to be breathing through your chest. You need your diaphragm to expand like a balloon just beneath your rib cage.
- Continuing with this practice as long as you are comfortable. Initially breathing exercises can make you feel a little light-headed. With practice, it will feel more and more comfortable and you will feel the benefits.
2. Equal Breathing –
This style of breathing is really simple to do, you just need to make sure that your in breath and out breath are the same length. I always focus on breathing through the belly and not the chest. Here is a quick explanation:
- Lie or sit comfortably, the great thing about equal breathing is that it can be done anywhere. I use this while in the car, at my desk while I am writing, during meditation and many other situations.
- breath in slow and deep in for the count of 5 seconds
- breath out slowly, ensuring all air is exhaled for the count of 5 seconds
- Repeat for as long as comfortable, you can also try increasing the length if it suits. I personally like to do this with about an 8-second count but like anything it takes practice and always start off slow.
3. The 4-7-8 Exercise
This exercise is a little different and although I do like it, I find that the other styles suit me better. You may find this exercise to be perfect so give it a shot and let me know. Here’s how:
- Sit or lay comfortably
- Inhale slowly, through the belly for the count of 4
- Hold the breath for the count of 7 – try not to be tense in your posture here
- Exhale completely for the count of 8
- You can repeat as feels comfortable but I like to do this several times.
4. Coherent Breathing
As I mentioned, I use diaphragmatic breathing together with the coherent breathing technique every day. The basic idea is that you breathe at a rate of 5 breaths per minute which works out to be about 5-6 seconds inhaling and 5-6 seconds exhaling. Here is a step by step:
- Sit or lie comfortably
- I like to place one hand on the belly and one on the chest
- Inhale slowly for the count of 5-6 seconds
- Exhale completely for the count of 5-6 seconds
- repeat this for as long as comfortable but I believe aiming for 5 minutes or more each session is favourable.
When this method is being taught, it is usually suggested to visualise “heart focused breathing” where you are breathing in and out of the heart area. It is said to increase your HRV or Heart Rate Variability, you can read more about that here. I personally use a product and program called inner balance. You can read about this here.
Here is a neat YouTube video I found about breathing, it also gives a great explanation on belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing which you should focus on doing with all of these exercises.
You can now breathe normally…
If there is one thing I could urge each and every person who reads my blog or that I meet in this world it to do, would be to learn about breathing techniques and practice them regularly and often.
We have been so conditioned to sit up straight and to suck in our bellies and this has led to so many of us breathing in an unnatural way. We shouldn’t be sucking in our bellies as we can’t breathe through the diaphragm the way our bodies are made to. Babies and children breath through their bellies, they aren’t worried about how their stomachs look, they are just breathing the way we all should.
Pay attention to the way you breathe, notice how it changes with different situations and when your emotions are heightened. I imagine that most of you would see that your breathing does not mimic that of a baby or child and I would wager that most of you would feel better after practising controlling your breathing.
Give one of these techniques a try, commit to doing it once or twice a day… even if it’s just for a few minutes. Work your way up to practising for 10-20 minutes per session, see how it makes you feel. Keep it going for several weeks and you are bound to see the benefits.
“Take a deep breath. Inhale peace. Exhale happiness.”
– A.D. Posey
P.S Please always keep in mind that my blog is my interpretation, I am not qualified to be giving medical advice. I am here to share my stories, what has worked for me and what I have learnt on my own journey. If you are struggling physically or emotionally, you should absolutely have a conversation with your doctor.