Breathing is one of the most natural of life’s processes. It is the single most important act that we do each day and we could not go more than a few minutes without it. Not only does breathing provide the body with necessary oxygen, it also helps rid the body of carbon dioxide.
Despite its importance, many of us do not pay enough attention to this process mainly as it happens automatically. However, expressions such as, ‘Just take a deep breath,’ when we feel anxious or angry demonstrate that we are aware of the power of taking a deep breath.
The Benefits of Focussing on our Breath
Nobody can avoid all stress. It is a part of life. When we become stressed or anxious, our body becomes overwhelmed and floods us with chemicals that help us to prepare for ‘fight or flight’. This natural reaction can be helpful in life threatening, emergency situations but can be exhausting if you find yourself in this state regularly. Deep breathing exercises can help to support you in counteracting these natural reactions to stress. In recent months, I have taken to using breathing techniques to help me in many aspects of my life. I have found that taking a few moments out of my day to focus solely on my breathing has had a profoundly positive impact on my mood. In fact, concentrating on breathing when stressed can:
- Help to slow your heart rate down.
- Encourage your muscles to relax
- Cause blood pressure to drop
- Allow you time to clear your mind and refocus
A simple breathing technique to use when stressed is:
- Sit with your spine straight and eyes closed
- Breathe in and out through you nose, counting to four as you do so
This is the technique I find myself using most often. It can be used any time anywhere and doesn’t take very long.
When I feel especially stressed, I find that the following breathing technique can really help.
- Sit up straight and place the tip of your tongue on the upper palate right behind your teeth. Your tongue will remain here for the duration.
- Breathe in for 4 seconds with your mouth closed
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds – shorten this time if you struggle.
- Purse your lips and breathe out through your mouth for 8 seconds. You should feel your breath travelling over your tongue – you may hear a hissing sound when you do this.
- Repeat once or twice more
I have used both of the above techniques several times and find that they not only relieve stress but also help me relax before bed.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
I often enjoy incorporating breathing techniques into meditation. Meditating is a habit that I am currently working hard to practise on a daily basis and find that alternating nostril breathing (nadi shodhana) helps keep me remain focussed on my breathing rather than allowing my mind to wander. Nadi is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘flow’ and shodhana means ‘purification’ making this technique perfect for clearing your mind and purifying your body.
To perform Nadi Shodhana:
- Find somewhere comfortable to sit with your spine straight and shoulders relaxed
- With eyes closed, place the thumb of your right hand over your right nostril; covering it completely
- Breathe in deeply and evenly through your left nostril
- Place the ring finger of your right hand over your left nostril, covering it completely.
- Remove your thumb from your right nostril and release your breath slowly.
Breath of Fire
(This technique should not be attempted if you are pregnant, have cardiac problems or spinal disorders).
If you are looking for a particularly sophisticated breathing technique, then ‘Breath of fire’ may be the one for you! When practised effectively, it can work wonders when fighting off anxiety, stress or depression. It is a rather tricky process and you should not expect to master it straight away. I myself have tried this technique a few times and am yet to do it well.
- Breathe in deeply through your nose and place a palm on your stomach.
- At the top of your breath, begin to breath out and in quickly through your nose.
- This should happen quickly (up to 2 or 3 times per second) and should also be quite loud. (If sitting next to someone, they should be able to hear you)
- When breathing in, you should feel your abdomen rise out towards your palm, and, on the exhale, should draw back in.
Start doing this for 20 – 30 seconds and build it up as you become more comfortable.
The process of taking air in and expelling it is an automatic and necessary bodily function. While we, for the most part, are unaware of our breathing, taking the time to focus on it can have many positive effects on your mood, body and wellbeing.
Guest Post by Claire