Riddle: It’s as light as a feather, but no man can hold it for long.
Answer: If you couldn’t guess it by the title of this article, it’s your breath!
Breathing is something we do every moment of every day, yet we rarely pay any attention to it. It’s regulated by the autonomic nervous system, so it happens automatically, just like your blood pumps through your veins and your intestines digest food. But unlike these other body processes, we can choose to actively change our breathing patterns. Why would we do this? Because deep breathing techniques provide all sorts of health benefits.
70% of the body’s toxins are released via exhalation. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of many processes, and deep breathing encourages a full exchange of carbon dioxide for fresh oxygen. It can also reduce stress, improve your heart rate, and lower or stabilize blood pressure.
Think about how you breathe when you’re frightened, stressed, or angry. Your breath becomes shallow and labored, your heart races, and your muscles clench. Someone might even tell you to “take a deep breath,” or you may feel like you can’t quite catch your breath. When you practice deep breathing techniques, you fill your lungs to capacity, which can increase blood circulation throughout your body. breathing is also an integral part of meditation, which has many proven physical and psychological benefits. The best way to find out the benefits of deep breathing is to try it for yourself.
Think of your lungs as balloons. When you breathe air in, your lungs should expand and fill, like you’re blowing the balloons up. To make sure you’re breathing deeply, follow these steps:
- Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly, just above your waist. Let out a big sigh and relax your shoulders and upper body.
- Slowly inhale through your nose, and hold your breath for a few seconds. Make sure that as you inhale, the hand on your abdomen rises higher than the hand on your chest. Deep breathing occurs in the abdomen, not the chest.
- Open your mouth and exhale, releasing the air over the course of eight seconds. Towards the end of that time period, you should contract your abdominal muscles to get every last bit of air out.
- Repeat four times or until you feel completely relaxed.
As you’re breathing in and out, imagine you’re releasing the tension of the day. Breathe out the bad and breathe in the good. Focus on how your body feels as you draw each breath. Are your shoulders hunched and tense? Is your heart pounding? Or do you feel relaxed and calm?
Deep breathing isn’t something you need do constantly, although as you continue to practice, it will become easier and feel more natural. Try to practice for just one minute, twice a day, or use this technique the next time you’re feeling particularly stressed or frustrated. It may seem like a pain to take a minute out of your busy day to focus on breathing, but you’ll be surprised at the many benefits you’ll notice.