How breathing differently can improve our wellbeing
Breathing is something that we all do, every second of every day, so it’s easy to take it for granted.
We enter the world by inhaling air, and we leave it by exhaling air. Breathing brings us energy. It helps send oxygen into our cells to keep them functioning optimally and helps them get rid of any waste products.
It is so central to life that we are both fundamentally aware of its importance and dismissive of it at the same time. How often do you actually stop and acknowledge that you are breathing? Let along how you are breathing? Probably not very often, right?
The health benefits of different breathing techniques
Surprisingly, it’s also easy to not do it quite right, and to not maximise the benefits of breathing, which might sound strange given that, surely it must be working if it’s keeping us alive? There are so many more health benefits, than simply life, to be had from different types of breathing techniques though:
Better health, reduced stress and increased relaxation
Studies have shown that deep breathing is capable of inducing an effective improvement in mood and stress both in terms of self-reported evaluations and of objective parameters, such as heart rate and salivary cortisol levels.1
It’s important to take time to slow down your lifestyle and allow yourself the opportunity to disengage from stressful situations. Emotions can have a direct effect on the body. When you are happy, for example, the corners of your mouth rise into a smile. Likewise, when you are calm, your breathing slows and deepens, while when you are nervous or anxious your breathing might speed up or become shallower.
Did you realise there are different types of breathing?
Our lungs have three main compartments. Most of the time we only take shallow breaths that involve the upper lobes (the top part) and don’t make as much use of the rest of their capacity as we could. There are different types of breathing that help us direct oxygen through our chests and into our stomach though. You might not even realise that you are not breathing well, but if you find that you are short of breath, holding your breath, running out of breath or feeling the sudden need to take a long breath, these are all signs that things are not quite as good as they could be. You might not be getting enough oxygen which, as well as having an impact on your physical health, can affect your mental wellbeing, as our minds as well as our bodies, need a steady supply of oxygen. Studies have actually shown that there is a high prevalence of anxiety and depression in those suffering from chronic breathing disorders.2
Consider trying these different breathing techniques
Some of these techniques may deliver immediate results, while others may bring benefits as you practice over time.
Deep breathing/ Diaphragmatic breathing
Learn how to take bigger, energy-giving breaths, all the way into your stomach.
- Make yourself comfortable, either laying down with a pillow to support you or sitting up with your shoulders, head and neck supported against a chair
- Slowly breathe in through your nose and allow your stomach to fill with air
- Breathe out through your nose for twice as long
- Put one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest
- Feel your stomach rise as you breathe in and lower as you breathe out
- Take a few more full, deep breaths, remembering to breathe fully into your stomach
Pursed lip breathing
This can be useful for those with lung conditions as it gets the diaphragm working and increases the oxygen going into your body.
- Take a normal breath in through your nose
- Exhale through your mouth with pursed lips
- Breathe out for twice as long as you breath in
There are different techniques, with this being just one example. Concentrate fully on your breath, using your focused attention as a form of meditation.
- Find somewhere that’s quiet and without distractions
- Get yourself into a comfortable position, preferably sitting or lying down
- Focus on your breathing by feeling and listening to your body as you inhale and exhale
- Try to maintain focus, but allow any thoughts to pass through your mind without worry or judgment
This type of breathing is excellent for calming your busy mind before you try to go to sleep.
- Rest the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, relax and breathe out fully through your mouth
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of four
- Hold your breath for a count of seven
- Part your lips and exhale loudly for a count of eight
Breathing brings your mind and body together to function well, relieve stress and help us relax and learn to control negative emotions. It can be a powerful weapon to align our spirit and is – quite literally – life itself.