As one of the body’s most natural processes, breathing announces the rhythm and state of a person’s being. Whether they’re feeling anxious, confident, happy or sad, all immediate changes can easily be spotted within alterations to someone’s breathing pattern.
This is because there’s two different types of breathing that commonly trigger different chain reactions within the body:
Thoracic breathing - when a person takes short, shallow breaths - unbalances the relationship between the incoming fresh oxygen, and the outgoing carbon dioxide.
A person might breathe this way because they feel anxious or scared, but because it’s disturbing the equilibrium, thoracic breathing often contributes to an increased heart rate, muscle tensions and feelings of disorientation.
On the other hand, diaphragmatic breathing - also known as controlled breathing - engages the diaphragm, and produces a negative pressure that drives air through the mouth and nose, filling the lungs with oxygen.
When the breathing is even in this way, an area of the body called the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated, and it’s this system that helps to calm the heartbeat, regulate blood flow, and improve digestion. It also helps your body to avoid the ‘fight or fly’ acute stress response.
It’s really common to breathe diaphragmatically when you’re in a deep and relaxed stage of the REM sleep cycle, and it’s also how newborn babies begin to breathe too. The process enriches the body with nutrients, and rids the system of carbon dioxide, and although it may be invisible, the importance of oxygen regulation can be very much felt.
The majority of people like to stay fit through more physically-engaging means - like going to the gym, or for a jog, cycle or swim for example - yet whatever the personal preference might be, all forms of exercise share a mutual lifeline through the body’s paramount ability to breathe.
When this ability to breathe is purposely improved, the benefits are felt at every level of health. So as much as people would like to see the physical gains first, it’ll prove to be double the investment if you focus on breathing exercises too.
What Are Breathing Exercises?
Take a deep breath in through the nose, before letting the air escape through your mouth - do you notice how much calmer you feel already? Breathing exercises often focus on improving how the air is being taken into the body, and in which quantities.
They’re really easy to practice, and usually require no more than a few minutes of your time to complete.
The process incorporates breathing into a variety of aspects around mental and physical wellbeing, and can help to process thoughts, emotions and feelings just as effectively as the more physical benefits.
What Are the Benefits of Breathing Exercises?
What’s really healthy about practicing breathing exercises is the phenomenal benefits they bring to every corner of the body. These include:
Removing Toxins from the Body
Due to the high levels of stress, eating habits and other pollutants involved with living in the modern age, the body can fill up with toxins really easily. Thankfully however, breathing exercises can help to detoxify the body by removing carbon dioxide whilst also triggering the release of lymph that works to clear circulation.
Whilst removing toxins, breathing exercises also allow the cells to fill with fresh oxygen, and when the cells are happy and oxygenated, they’re able to fight off incoming viruses and bacteria a lot more effectively.
Breathing exercises boost the immune system, and they also encourage new vitamins and minerals to enter the system.
Deliberate diaphragmatic breathing (deep, slow breaths) eases feelings of anxiety and signals to the body that it’s ok to relax.
The technique has been shown to slow the heart rate and increase the production of the happiness hormone endorphin.
Practicing breathing exercises garners great benefits for the quality of sleep, because it helps to promote a sense of peace and calm; and that it’s time for the mind to wind down.
Their ability to cleanse the body will also improve the effectiveness of many biological nighttime processes, and will leave you feeling much more alert when you wake up in the morning.
In a very similar way to meditation, controlling the breathing encourages the brain to learn the key skill of focussing on just one thing.
Taking the opportunity to clear away the clutter of the mind allows the brain the capacity to process thoughts and emotions with wider refinement.
Lifestyle habits can greatly affect the capacity of the lungs, and how much air you body’s able to process in one gulp. However, breathing exercises can work to improve this function, training both the lungs and the diaphragm to take in more air, which can be especially useful if you’re training frequently and you’re looking to improve your physical stamina.
Good for Cardiovascular Health
Breathing exercises are really effective at regulating cardiovascular health, and bring the heart rate back down to normal after stressful situations. The oxygen-rich process can also help to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
The best thing about the benefits of breathing exercises is that they’re really easy to access because the practice is super simple to do.
Breathing Exercises You Can Do at Home
This first breathing exercise is one of our favourites to induce a deep sense of calm, and we would strongly recommend this technique to anyone who’s suffering from insomnia.
To begin, empty the lungs of any air, before breathing in through the nose to a mental count of 4. Hold it for a count of 7, before letting the air escape through your mouth to a mental count of 8.
Repeat this process up to 4 times. And a good way to remember the order of the process is to think of the numbers - 4-7-8 - in an ascending pattern. Try this one just before bedtime and it’ll work wonders for your sleep.
This next breathing technique is often adopted by the military to calm soldiers down in highly stressful situations, and should be your go-to if you’re experiencing short, shallow thoracic breathing.
Imagine your breathing being represented by a square, beginning at the bottom right corner. Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds as you climb the side of the square, before then holding your breath for 4 seconds whilst you travel across the top.
Exhale through your mouth for a count of 4 seconds, as you descend the opposite side of the square, before completing the square by holding your breath for a final count of 4; arriving back at the corner from which you started. You should try to visualise the square as best you can, as it helps to bring a sense of serenity to the process.
Also known as ‘Alternate Nostril Breathing’ the Nadi Shodhana is a powerful breathing technique that’s capable of soothing nerve pain and rebalancing the energy of the body.
It’s a heavily oxygen-rich process that boosts the capacity of the lungs. When sitting comfortably, place your thumb so that it’s pressing one of your nostrils shut.
Next, breathe in deep through your remaining available nostril, and when at the peak of your inhalation, switch nostrils so that the one you just inhaled through is now shut; and visa versa.
Prepare to finish the process by exhaling through the other side of your nose, repeating and reversing the process for up to 2 minutes. The Nadi Shodhana is highly recommended if you’re wanting to feel more awake, and just need a convenient kickstart to your day.
Where To Do Breathing Exercises?
The topic of where, and when, to do breathing exercises is really an open-ended question, and they’ve proved to be equally as effective in both stressful and serene environments.
Whether you’re just wrapping up a soothing session of yoga, or about to go in to an important exam, there’ll never be a time when a quick breathing exercise won’t be able to bring lasting benefits to the way you feel. And the more you practice, the better and more felt the benefits will become.
So next time you’re feeling stressed, tired, sore, or breathless, just remember ‘breathing exercises’ and you’ll never go far wrong.
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