Feeling stressed? Simple tweaks to breathing can immeasurably boost wellbeing and reduce stress. Here’s how to audit and upgrade your breath for better physical and mental health.
Step 1: Breathe from your abdomen
To get the most out of each breath, you need to breathe from your belly, says Ros Ben-Moshe, director of Laughlife Wellbeing Programs.
“Optimal breathing stems from the abdomen, where a richer inhalation of oxygen and exhalation of carbon dioxide occurs, slowing the heart rate and easing anxiety.” She says breathing deeper in this way stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which induces feelings of “peace and calm“.
“Interestingly, we begin our lives breathing well, which can be seen watching babies breathing, as they take deep breaths in and out with their abdomen rising and falling, not their chest,” Ben-Moshe notes. Somewhere along the way we lose this vital skill of breathing through our tummies, and rely on shallow breathing instead.
Hot Tip: Place your hand on your belly when breathing. Though it feels counter-intuitive, Ben-Moshe says that when you breathe in, your abdomen should stick out, and when you breathe out, your abdomen is sucked back in.
Step 2: Breathe through your nostrils
Your nostrils are there for a reason, peeps. Breathing through them heats air up so that it travels ‘more easily’ through the body.
Mouth breathing, on the other hand, can cause health issues. Such were the findings of research published in the Jan/Feb issue of General Dentistry in 2010.
While the findings focused on the effects of mouth breathing on kids (and how it can even change the shape of their faces), mouth breathing can also cause poor oxygen concentrations. This in turn can lead to health issues such as high blood pressure, heart problems and other issues. Yikes.
Naturopath Mim Beim of Breathing Well goes one step further, saying: “If you are a mouth breather, the very best thing you can do for your health is to learn to breathe through your nose.” She says you will get fewer colds, have better circulation and improved concentration.
Hot Tip: Whenever you catch yourself breathing through your mouth, swap it to nose breathing, asap. Pretty simple, right?
Step 3: Breathe deep
It’s not just about breathing from low down in your tum, it’s also about breathing deeply. You need to really breathe in, taking in as much air as you can with your breath. You also need to let all that air out (and we mean all of it) by exhaling deeply too.
As Ben-Moshe mentioned, breathing deeply stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which naturally relaxes us. “In this state, endorphins (those feel-good hormones) are released, introducing feelings of happiness and wellbeing, and oxygen delivery improves, which is important to enhance mental stamina and clarity,” says Ben-Moshe. “With each deep, long breath, muscle stress and tension is released.”
Hot Tip: Concentrate on breathing all the way in, till you can’t take in any more air. Hold that air, then really release it, till you’re sure there’s nothing left. Talk about deep.
Step 4: Practise
Because breathing correctly feels “counterintuitive” (you know, the whole belly ‘out’ while breathing in and belly ‘in’ while breathing out), Ben-Moshe says, “It really takes a while getting used to and, like so many things, needs to be practised.”
So don’t expect this kind of breathing to just become second nature. Instead, take time each day to refine your technique and get better at it. As they say, practice makes perfect, and who doesn’t want to breathe perfectly?
“Becoming aware of your breathing takes practice, but it’s well worth it,” Ben-Moshe notes. “Becoming a ‘conscious breather’ means heightening your awareness of how you are breathing at different times in the day. You will begin to notice when you are breathing more shallowly, more quickly, and even when unconsciously you may be holding your breath, which often occurs during moments of deep concentration.”
Hot Tip: Set aside time every morning and every evening to practise this deep breathing technique. Even a few minutes can help centre you and fill you with much-needed calm. What are you waiting for?