Would it surprise you to know that most people aren’t very good at breathing?
Pay attention to the breathing patterns of people around you and you will notice a plague of shallow breathing. In some cases you will even notice that the rhythm of the breath is continually interrupted as the person unconsciously holds onto their breath! This is particularly true of people suffering from stress, anxiety, excessive worries or depression.
A good supply of oxygen is vital for emotional balance and for the optimum health and performance of all internal organs. This is especially true of brain function. Low oxygen levels in the brain can lead to mental fog, confusion, lack of concentration and can fuel negative thoughts. A poor oxygen supply contributes to feelings of lethargy, procrastination and loss of motivation.
If you are in the habit of poor breathing, you may be contributing to an increase in your own stress levels. Shallow breathing leads your body to believe that your environment isn’t safe. This is because when a person experiences a fight/flight situation, breathing can naturally become shallower, therefore the body will release stress hormones just in case you need to fight or run away.
Learning to breathe well is a vital step to managing stress, reducing anxiety and breaking the thought cycles of depression, as well as increasing your energy levels. It also feels good.
So how do you know if you are breathing well or not? A good way to test is to lie flat on the floor with one hand resting on your chest and the other hand resting on your tummy. Relax and let your natural breathing rhythm begin. If the chest hand moves more than the tummy hand, your breath is shallow. If the tummy hand moves more then, well done! You are good at breathing.
Whether you are good at it or not, regular practice of deeper breathing focuses the mind and helps to reduce stress hormones that contribute to anxiety or worry.
Without your conscious attention breathing happens all by itself, finding its own rhythm. Re-train your habitual rhythm to breathe more deeply. Sit quietly for a moment and take the time to notice your breathing rhythm. If you are aware that you are not breathing very deeply, try this exercise.
- Breathe in slowly for the count of 7. Make sure that you pull the breath deep down to the diaphragm. Diaphragm breathing expands the tummy, as opposed to lifting the shoulders or chest.
- Exhale slowly to the count of eleven, allowing muscles to relax as you do.
- Repeat 10 times
If you find that it is uncomfortable to focus on breathing in, then just pay attention to the exhale. The key to this exercise is to be conscious that each breath in is carrying a vital energy force into the body, and each breath out allows the muscles to relax and the mind to be calm.
After you have done some deep breathing, notice how you feel. How do you notice that you are more relaxed or calm? Is it a physical feeling in the shoulders or tummy? Or do you notice that you are able to think more clearly? It’s good to notice how you can benefit from this exercise.
Practice this exercise as often during the day as you can manage.
Breathing deeply before eating relaxes the stomach and aids digestion.
If you like, when you are breathing deeply, let yourself imagine something soothing or calming. Perhaps a memory of a relaxing time you’ve had, or recalling a soothing massage, or just visualise a serene picture or your favourite pet.
Soon you will notice that you have more energy, you are sleeping more soundly, waking more refreshed and are able to respond to things around you in a more comfortable way.
Improve stress, depression, anxiety and panic by changing the way that you breathe.