Breath to relax: how to do it
Do you feel under pressure? Has the global pandemic left you increasingly anxious? If so, breathing to relax can help. According to American Psychological Society, more than three-quarters of Americans (78%) say COVID-19 is a major source of stress in their lives. The good news is that the soothing breathing practices used in ancient traditions of yoga and meditation have been proven to relieve tension and calm the mind. Here, yoga teacher, counselor and holistic health practitioner Eve Boggenpoel examined the science behind breathing for relaxation and shows how it activates the resting and digestive branch of your nervous system to help you find better balance. in life. All you need is some time for yourself, a quiet place to practice, and a yoga mat.
If you would like to learn more about the practice of yoga, check out our articles on whether yoga is a religion and how to improve your flexibility.
What are the benefits of relaxing breathing?
Breathing to relax is nothing new. Originally used to prepare the body for meditation, yoga and mindfulness practitioners believed that focusing on the breath could calm the mind by giving the brain something to focus on. Now these early theories have been confirmed by research at Emory University School of Medicine, which confirms that slow, deep breathing is helpful in managing anxiety and depression. In fact, breathing for relaxation is so effective in calming the system that it has a measurable physiological effect. A review of existing studies published in the American Journal of Cardiology have found that even short-term slow breathing techniques can lower your resting heart rate and lower your blood pressure.
So what exactly is the relationship between your breathing and your state of mind? According to Kat Farrants, founder of Movement for modern life, when you feel stressed, your breathing becomes faster and more shallow. This is because your brain has activated your sympathetic nervous system (SNS), one of the three branches of your autonomic nervous system. Also known as the fight-or-flight response, SNS signals your body’s systems to protect you from perceived threats. Farrants explained that the reason your breathing rate increases is to allow your body to absorb more oxygen. Your heart will also beat faster and contract more strongly in order to quickly transport the newly oxygenated red blood cells to your larger muscles, allowing you to better defend yourself or flee from danger.
Slow conscious breathing, on the other hand, activates the second branch of your autonomic nervous system, the PNS or parasympathetic nervous system, according to Farrant. PNS is also known as rest and summary mode. This system returns your body to its normal state of rest after a threat subsides, slowing breathing and heart rate, and reducing blood flow to the muscles. Research into the exact mechanisms of this is scarce, but one theory for how slow breathing influences SNP is that it stimulates the vagus nerve, according to the journal. Frontiers in human neuroscience. The longest cranial nerve in your body, it carries around 75% of the nerve fibers in the PNS, influences heart rate and breathing, and most importantly, balances your nervous system.
How To Breathe To Relax
Learn to breathe deeply
Before working on the individual exercises below, learn to control your breathing with full yogic breathing. Lying down, place your hands on your lower abdomen and, as you breathe in, direct your breath to the area under your fingers, letting your stomach slowly rise as you inhale and come down as you exhale. After a few minutes, place your hands on the sides of your ribs and focus on expanding your rib cage toward your fingers as you breathe in, feeling it drop inward as you exhale. Finally, place one hand on your upper chest over your breastbone and direct your breath to your chest only. Can you feel it rise slightly as you breathe in? Once you have learned to isolate your breath in these three phases, bring them together in one full breath, widening your stomach first, then your side ribs and finally your upper chest, releasing with a long exhale. slow.
Slow down your breathing rate
Normal breathing rates vary from about eight to 16 breaths per minute, depending on MedlinePlus, but the benefits of slow breathing generally refer to less than 10 breaths per minute, with six breaths per minute being particularly beneficial. Indeed, research published in the journal Hypertension found that breathing at this rate lowered blood pressure and calmed the fight-or-flight response. To breathe about six times per minute, each breath cycle (one inhale, one exhale) will take about 10 seconds.
Extend your exhalation
Another way to maximize the benefits of slow breathing is to make your exhale longer than your inhale, as this greatly activates the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system, your mode of rest and digestion. Using the six breaths per minute technique above, for example, try inhaling for a count of four and exhaling for a count of six.
Pause after expiring
If you are feeling anxious, take a break after you breathe out and before your next inhale appears in the journal. Psychophysiology to slow your heart rate and improve your heart variability (a measure of the change over time between your heartbeats), a sign of relaxation. After you have exhaled completely, rather than rushing to take your next inhale, consciously relax your shoulders, chest, and abdomen and take a short break before inhaling again.
Count your breaths
Counting the breath has been used for centuries in mindfulness traditions and now research in Frontiers in Psychology confirms that it is associated with a better mood and increased focus. To try, gently close your eyes. Allow your breathing to calm down, then when you feel ready, start counting, repeating yourself silently as you breathe in “in, one”, then when you breathe out, “out, one”. On your next breath, repeat “in, two”, “out, two”. Continue like this until 10, then start again at one.
Try the “bellows breath” technique
For the longer term management of anxiety, this yogic breathing technique has been demonstrated by researchers at the Frontiers in Psychiatry journal, to significantly reduce anxiety after four weeks by modulating the activity of your amygdala, a brain structure involved in processing emotions. Sit in a comfortable position with your hands on your abdomen. Inhale. Quickly pull your belly button inward and upward as you exhale forcefully through your nose, followed by a strong inhalation through your nose. Repeat the pattern up to eight times to complete a cycle, then gradually increase the speed over three or four more cycles until your inhales and exhales each last about a second each. As you become more familiar with bellows breathing, increase each cycle to 15-30 breaths.
- TO WARN: breath breath increases the pressure in the abdomen, according to International Yoga. Do not practice during pregnancy or menstruation, or if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, stomach ulcer, hiatus hernia, or chronic constipation.