Stress is all around us every single day. From the moment we wake up we are in a hurry to be somewhere. We are in a hurry to get things done. Be it off to work, or school or PTA meetings, it’s important to remember to take a moment to breathe in the morning. And in the evening. Or any other time of the day when stress starts to creep on.
Breathing is a vital part of our survival. Without breathing air, we simply will cease to exist. So what makes us think that we can go through a day without taking the time to do so?
Sure, we breathe all day long as our lungs contract and displace the air surrounding us at any given moment… but this is merely involuntary movement – automatic function. Physiologically, breathing is actually a complicated set of events.
The human body requires 352.8 liters of oxygen in one day. While the average human is getting 432 liters per day, on average – we still may not be getting enough air throughout the day.
In an excerpt from an entry in the International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine related to the function of breathing it is stated that breathing is unlike many other physiological functions, as it can be controlled via voluntary actions. Breathing is also reported to be the entry point for both psychological and physiological regulation.
The report also explains that breathing has other functions apart from maintaining carbon dioxide and oxygen, and air ventilation. They explain that breathing has an effect on the stability of posture, has an effect on the body’s motor control, and plays a role in a variety of regulations concerning both psychological and physiological functions of the human body. Other than these functions, they report that breathing also have an effect on the autonomic nervous system, the metabolism, chemical regulation and the circulatory system.
Only about 21 percent of the air we breathe is actually oxygen.
Though, oxygen is essential not only for our lungs, but for every cell and organ in our precious bodies. The primary role of breathing is to absorb oxygen and to expel carbon dioxide. So, if you’re not breathing correctly, consider that your body may not be expelling the carbon dioxide quickly enough and/or efficiently enough for you to keep yourself from getting stressed out.
Have you ever been so stressed out that you forgot to breathe?
Consider this – the human brain, which is only two percent of the body mass, needs 20% of the oxygen breathed in. Take heed that if the brain doesn’t receive oxygen for three minutes, cells begin to die.
So what can we do to be sure that we’re not only breathing, but breathing well? –
Certified Life Coach and psychologist, Judith Tutin, PhD says “Deep breathing counters the effects of stress by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure.”
There are several breathing techniques that can help you reduce stress and maintain other physiological functions such as –
- A reduction in blood pressure and stabilized heart rate
- A reduction in the amount of stress hormones found in the blood
- A reduction in lactic acid, often found in muscle tissue
- Carbon dioxide and oxygen levels are thoroughly balanced in the blood
- The function of the immune system is improved
- Physical energy is enhanced
- A general feeling of well-being and calmness
Dr. Andrew Weil reports that mindful breathing on a regular basis can be both energizing and calming to the body. He goes on to report that this technique can also assist with health problems caused by stress, including digestive disorders and panic attacks.
He recommends a few different exercises:
1. The Stimulating Breath (otherwise known as Bellows Breath)
- This exercise is performed with the mouth closed and relaxed. You need to breath in and out via your nose. Each inhale should be at the same pace of an exhale, but keep in mind that you should try to do these cycles in a short amount of time. Dr. Weil reports that this exercise includes noisy breaths.
- The aim of this exercise is to create quick movements within the diaphragm. For this reason, it is important to try and get as many breathing cycles into one second. Dr. Weil recommends aiming for here cycles per second. You should breathe normally after each complete cycle.
- During the first few exercises, a complete cycle should last around 15 seconds. Dr. Weil explains that it is vital not to over-exert yourself. With each practice, the time for an entire cycle can be increased by around five seconds. The aim is to reach one full minute per complete breathing cycle.
2. The 4-7-8 Exercise (also known as the Relaxing Breath)
This exercise can be practiced in any type of position, including sitting and standing up. Dr. Weil do explain that in the learning phase of this exercise, it is recommended to start out in a sitting position, with the back straight up.
- During the entire exercise, your tongue’s tip should be placed just behind the front teeth (upper side).
- Start by exhaling. You should exhale through the mouth and make a whoosh sound while exhaling. Try to get as much air out as possible.
- The next step should be done with your mouth closed. Breath in for four seconds through your nose, then count to seven while holding your breath.
- Finally, open up your mouth and exhale. Remember to make the whoosh sound. You should count to eight while exhaling.
- This cycle should be repeated another three times. Once you reach four sets, you have completed the 4-7-8 exercise.
Dr. Weil explains that it is essential to inhale quietly and through the nose. While exhaling, your mouth should be used instead of your nose and the exhaling should be audible. He also explains that your tongue’s tip should stay in the recommended position during the entire course of the exercise and that the exhaling process should take up twice as much time as the inhaling process.
3. Breath Counting – used in many Zen practices
- This position is done in a comfortable position. The spine should be straight up, with the head slightly inclined into a forward position.
- Start by exhaling and counting ‘one’ while you exhale.
- Count ‘two’ to ‘five’ during the next times you exhale.
- Once you reach the count of ‘five’, you should start a new cycle – starting at ‘one’ with the following exhale.
Dr. Weil reports that your count during this exercise should never reach more than ‘five’. He also reports that counting should only be done when exhaling.
These are only a few exercises suggested by one doctor.
Keep reading, there’s more! –
In a report from Time Magazine, Jordan Shakeshaft provided a few different breathing techniques suggested by different doctors. Here are the ‘Beginner Level’ exercises:
1. Equal Breathing – (also known by Yogis as ‘SamaVritti’)
How It’s Done – This exercise involves breathing in and out through your nose. Start by inhaling, then count to four. Once you reach the count of four, start to exhale while also counting to four. This process should then be repeated. A natural resistance to your breathing pattern will be created through this exercise.
When It Works Best – Rebecca Pacheco recommends performing this exercise before going to bed. She explains that the breathing exercise helps to calm the mind and rids the mind of racing thoughts. It can also help individuals who finds it difficult to fall asleep.
2. Progressive Relaxation
How It’s Done – Start by closing your eyes. This technique works by tensing and relaxing, and focuses on different muscle groups for up to three seconds each. You need to start with your toes and feet. Then, move on to your knees, the thighs, you back, arms and hands. Finally, focus on your neck, then your jaw and finish with your eyes. Slow, deep breaths should be maintained at all times during this technique.
When It Works Best – This technique can be used anywhere, at any time. Remember that you should not get dizzy while doing performing this technique. Should you feel uncomfortable while doing the technique, you should bring the amount of seconds used for each muscle group down to two or one seconds each.
3. Abdominal Breathing Technique
How It’s Done – This technique should be done in a flat position on the floor. Start by laying on your back and place your hands on your stomach. Both hands should be in a palm down position and at the base of the rib cage. Once you are comfortable, you should inhale through your nose. Be sure to take a slow, deep breath while inhaling. Your abdomen area should expand in order to provide room for the lungs to stretch. Your chest area should not expand during this exercise. Finally, exhale slowly.
When It Works Best – This exercise is an excellent stress reliever just before a stressful event occurs, such as an exam. It is important to note that mastering the technique may be hard in the beginning.
It’s important to remember to take the time to breathe each day. These few exercises provided here are merely enough to get you started.
Notice too that YOGA is a good platform to learn breathing exercises. It’s called Pranayama
In a report from ‘Yoga Journal’ – there are three basic breathing practices to follow at home –
- Basic Breath Awareness– accordingly, the benefits are quiet and calming of the entire nervous system, reducing stress andanxiety and improving self-awareness.
- The Cooling Breath (Sitali/Sitkari Pranayama)– Try it twice a day for improved focus, reduced agitation, anxiety and anger, and to pacify heat within the system. It is further stated that this type of Pranayama is particularly useful when a person feels drowsy during the morning. Some people also find it useful when they need to enhance their focus after an afternoon slump.
- The Long Exhale– This is said to reduceinsomnia, sleep disturbances and anxiety. The aim of this exercise is to relax the entire nervous system. It is known as a 1:2 breathing exercise. Exhaling should be gradually increased until it reaches double the length of an inhale.
The benefits are here for you to discover.
Breathing is more than just breath for your lungs. Utilize it in such a way that you can keep your entire immune system on alert – henceforth, eliminating bad health.
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