BREATHING is fundamental to our existence.
On average, we take 20,000 breaths a day, yet we often don’t give it the attention it deserves.
“Breathing is so simple, we tend to overlook its benefits,” says Stefanie Broes, co-founder of breath-pacing device Moonbird.
“Of course, it keeps you alive, but scientists have found practising breathing exercises can help reduce anxiety, as well as improve sleep.”
Here’s how to go about harnessing your lung power.
What is breathwork?
“When we breathe in, oxygen is carried by red blood cells to produce energy in the body, and when we breathe out, we remove carbon dioxide, a waste product,” says Dr Paras Patel, chief scientific officer at wellbeing app The Zensory.
Breathing also preps the body for stressful situations and aids rest and digestion.
Breathing preps the body for stressful situations and aids rest and digestion[/caption]
“Imagine walking down the street and something jumps out at you.
“Our primal reaction is to take a short sharp inhalation, which prepares our body for the flight, fight or freeze response,” says Dr Patel.
“Alternatively, after a long day, when you finally sit down, one of our first bodily reactions is the long outwards exhalation, which helps us relax.”
It triggers our parasympathetic nervous system, AKA the body’s rest and digestion system.
Sometimes though, our fight or flight response can kick in so much that we end up breathing quickly, even when we’re not facing a threat – we might just be opening an email or taking a call.
But we have the power to change how we breathe to counteract that, reducing stress, heart rate and our blood pressure in the process.
Beyond that, breathwork can boost energy levels, enhance emotional wellbeing and promote a sense of overall balance and clarity – plus, it’s free!
Tips to improve your breathing
Shut your mouth
“Many of us, as we age, develop a largely dysfunctional breathing pattern, mostly due to the stresses or traumas we encounter,” says Miranda Bailey, co-founder of The Breath Connection.
“This pattern of ‘over-breathing’ – breathing too quickly and through the mouth – can have a negative impact on physical and mental health.”
Her advice? “In the nicest possible way, shut your mouth.
“The more frequently you can consciously bring your breath back to a slow rhythm through the nose and into the belly, the better your health and wellbeing will be.
“Stress and inflammation levels can reduce, and energy levels can rise.”
“Nasal breathing will help open the airways, increase blood flow, promote better use of the diaphragm and increase oxygen delivery,” says breathwork coach Jess Parkinson.
Hum for zen
“Humming is a great way of opening the airways and increasing oxygen delivery,” adds Jess – perhaps best tried when you’re WFH.
But wherever you are, make sure you direct your breathing as low as you can go.
Humming is a great way of opening the airways and increasing oxygen delivery[/caption]
“When our breathing is dysfunctional or sub-optimal, we tend to breathe high into the upper chest and add extra strain to muscles in the throat, neck and back,” says Jess.
“Breathing lower and slower can involve the diaphragm, which helps with core strength and stability, aiding overall posture.
“Try placing your hands around your lower ribcage and as you inhale, feel the lower ribs and belly gently push your hands outward.
“As you breathe out, feel them fall.
“Keep your chest and shoulders relaxed.”
Make a note of how you breathe in different situations.
“Focus on making your breath as conscious as possible, actually paying attention to it, which we don’t usually do,” says Laura Pearce, founder of Yoga Collective London.
“Time the length, depth and movement of your breath.
“For instance, are you breathing into your belly, chest or shoulders?
“Take notes and set up a mood scale that goes from chilled to highly stressed, and observe how you feel.
“That way, you can notice how your breath feels in a calm place, and mimic that during times of stress.
“This will then trick the nervous system into letting go of the stress.”
Change your sleep set-up
If your breathing stops and starts while you’re out for the count, you may have sleep apnoea, which not only can disturb your ability to get good-quality sleep, but can also lead to other health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
If you think you may have this, speak to your GP.
Regularly washing your bedding and using an anti-allergy pillow can help you breathe and sleep easier[/caption]
Alternatively, if your airways feel blocked up at night, consider whether you might be suffering from an allergy.
The Sleep Charity recommends keeping your bedroom clean, and free of clutter and dust.
Regularly washing your bedding and using an anti-allergy pillow can help you breathe and sleep easier, too.
There are lots of apps to help you get to grips with breathing.
Try iBreathe for guided breathwork sessions, then, once you’ve got the knack of it, you can use it to design your own exercises to suit the patterns that help you relax most.
Similarly, Breathwrk offers breathing exercises that focus on different areas of your life, including ones for sleep, calming down and feeling more energised.
It’s also worth checking out the settings on your smartwatch – the Meditation app on the Apple Watch gives real-time feedback on how your breathing relates to your heart rate.
Just don’t spend too much time staring at a screen.
Just as we can forget to blink when focusing on a work task, we are more likely to hold our breath, too.
Four breathing exercises to try
Nevsah Fidan Karamehmet, breath expert and founder of Breath Hub shares different techniques to adopt depending on the moment…
Use different breathing techniques to adopt depending on the moment[/caption]
To ease panic
Use 4-7-8 breathing, a simple and effective way to reduce stress and anxiety levels.
How? Find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down.
Inhale deeply through your nose for four seconds; hold your breath for seven seconds; then breathe out slowly for eight seconds.
Repeat for several minutes.
To focus the mind
Use Coherent breathing – this helps to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems that control the fight-or-flight and rest-and-digest responses.
How? Simply breathe in for a count of four, then breathe out for four.
Make sure you are breathing in a connected way, with no pauses between the inhales and exhales.
Continue this breathing practice for at least five minutes.
This will help you focus if you find your mind keeps wandering.
To boost energy
Use Kapalbhati, a rapid breathing technique.
How? Find a comfortable position.
Place your hands on your lower abdomen and breathe slowly and deeply, making sure to fill your lungs with oxygen.
You should feel your abdomen expand as your lungs fill with air.
After taking this breath, exhale forcefully, using your diaphragm to push the air out of your lungs.
Repeat this for about a minute.
To bring on sleep
Use Chandra bhedana, a yoga breathing technique, which can help to relax the mind.
How? Gently push your finger on your right nostril to block it and breathe in through your left nostril.
Once you have gently inhaled enough air that your lungs are full, block both nostrils and hold your breath for as long as feels comfortable.
Then, unblock just the right nostril and gently exhale, emptying the lungs of air.
Repeat, alternating nostrils, until you begin to feel sleepy.
Source of data and images: thesun