Breathing exercises have long been a technique for relaxation.
In fact many times, people intuitively make changes to their breathing patterns in order to calm down when encountering a state of high tension and anxiety.
When you are mindfully aware that you can incorporate breathing techniques anywhere at anytime, it can have a great impact on how well you manage stress.
What can bad breathing do to you?
If you don’t know why you should practice good breathing, consider some of the consequences of bad breathing.
- Less oxygen the blood carries in the body
- Less oxygen to brain
- Constriction of blood vessels
- Blood pressure spike
- Heart rate accelerate
Do you need more convincing?
While there are people out there who have mastered the art of breathing well, the odds are that you are not one of those. It’s the pros like musicians and athletes that have it nailed down simply because it’s a job requirement.
Evaluating your breathing
The key to good breathing is the… belly. Or tummy as some might call it.
Look into the mirror and notice your body shape and posture when breathing. If your chest expands and shoulders rise while inhaling, you are not exactly getting it right.
In many circles, you will only be getting it right when the part of your body that expands when inhaling is your belly.
Do this exercise:
- Lie flat on your back
- Put on hand on your belly, and other other on your chest
- Start breathing as per normal
The “right” scenario is that the hand on your belly should rise as you inhale and unrise (is there such a word?) when you exhale.
The hand on the chest should hardly move at all. If it does rise and fall, the amount of it’s movement should be much less than the movement observed on the hand on the belly.
Now that you’ve realized that you need a little help to become more of a professional breather, it’s time to get on the battlefield.
Breathing for beginners
I strongly suggest that you take baby steps.
After all, you have probably been using the same breathing patterns for decades. It’s not realistic to expect a change in breathing patterns as if flipping a switch.
Only move on to advanced techniques once you have mastered the level for beginners and novices.
- Find a comfortable place and either sit or lie down
- Put one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest
- Using only your nose, inhale with the goal of seeing the hand on the belly rise and hardly any movement on the hand on the chest
- Take 3 seconds to inhale each breath slowly
- Take another 3 seconds to exhale gently through your nostrils and mouth while noticing your hand positions again
- Repeat till your body feels relaxed
I remember a time when I used this stress-busting technique while waiting at a reception for a panel interview. I calmed down and started dishing out my arsenal to the interviewers in that room. I got offered the job later that same day.
It can sound really odd to read about starter and advanced levels of breathing. But you might be better able to see why after seeing this.
- Lie down on a bed
- Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest
- Slowly inhale and feel the air gush in through your nose, then to the lungs, and then the chest
- While inhaling, feel the air enter the body, your diaphragm move down, and abdomen extending
- Notice that most of the movements on your hands should be on the one placed on the abdomen
- Exhale slowly via the nose and mouth while executing a gentle blow as if blowing out air
- The hand on the abdomen should fall at this point
- Repeat for at least 10 minutes or until you achieve desired state of relaxation
In the world of holistic therapy, the above steps is how a taking a complete breath should be conducted. It’s also know as zen-breathing in some circles.
While this can seem a little extreme compared to what you are used to. It can become a natural way of breathing with more practice.
A more creative approach to this
I can understand if some readers find all these a little too boring.
Well… good thing that we are creative beings 😀
Imagine that a small balloon resides just under you belly button.
And every breath you take in is with the objective of inflating this balloon. As air is pumped into this tiny balloon, you belly button should rise. Then as you exhale, visualize the balloon being deflated which causes your belly to fall.
After writing this, I realized that this could sound much more simpler than it really is. Maybe it should go to the beginner section?
Breathing in the heat of the moment
The techniques discussed above all require you to rest either in a seated or lying position. What if the circumstances when you really need to relax don’t allow you such comfort?
There are various situations where such scenarios can play out:
- Argument with road bullies
- Decision time when the person at the counter asks whether you want an upsize
- Being put on the spot in team meetings
- Making a big mistake during a major presentation
In these emergencies, here’s what you can do.
- Inhale slowly, deeply, and fully
- Feel your diaphragm rise, lungs expand, and cheeks puff
- Hold that breath for 5 or 6 seconds
- Exhale slowly and releasing every once of air through your nose and lips
- Pause, and then breath as per normal
- Repeat of necessary
This exercise can be useful for quick impromptu fixes. But they have no long term positive effects.
The natural breathing trick
Mother nature has a gift for all of us regarding breathing techniques to relief stress and anxiety.
It is the… yawn.
Don’t laugh. This is not a joke.
Yawning is the body’s way of getting more oxygen intake to revitalize the bloodstream. When you feel stress, one of the body’s reflex is to alleviate that stress by sending a signal to the brain for it to yawn.
The problem these days is that people don’t yawn naturally anymore. Whenever we feel one coming, we don’t give it the full effort it truly deserves because yawning is perceived as a form of rudeness in modern society.
These days, especially in public places, yawns are more like meows :S
When you are at home, or if you are an obnoxious individual, go all out the next time you yawn.
- Open you mouth as widely as you possibly can
- Gulp down as much air as your lungs allow
- Take that air all the way into your belly
- Then let it out with pleasure, emptying your lungs
- Don’t forget to release that sound that comes with yawning
You deserve the best. Don’t let a little social pressure affect your stress management regime.