Just take a moment before you start reading this to close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Ahh! Doesn’t that feel better? One of the simplest and most effective stress relieving exercises we can do is to breathe!
Watch a baby or a pet breathe. You will see the belly expand as it inhales and collapse as it exhales. That’s how we come into the world breathing. Take a moment and check to see how you are breathing. Is your breath expanding your abdomen or in fact doing the exact opposite? Many of us actually breathe backwards, that is the belly moves inwards with the inhale. This is “stressed breathing”. It accesses the sympathetic nervous system that promotes the “fight or flight” response in our bodies. The tension in our diaphragm sends a message to the brain that danger is imminent.
By conscious or “mindful” breathing we can change the physiological response, and return our bodies to “rest and repair” mode.
When we inhale the lungs fill up like balloons, not just pushing out to the front, but also to the back. If you stand and place your hands over your kidneys, when you take a deep breath you should be able to feel the back expand also. (This may take some practice.)
The diaphragm is the main muscle doing the breathwork, about 75% of the work. Air comes into the lungs where the blood absorbs it and undesirable gases are removed. During exhalation the diaphragm relaxes, as air is pushed out, releasing carbon dioxide.
The deeper you inhale the more oxygen the body can utilize, and the deeper you exhale the more carbon dioxide the body expels. Which gives us another reason for deep breathing – you feel more alert!
Take a Deep Breath
- Whenever possible breathe in and out through the nose. Nostrils act as filters to clean, warm and moisten air before it enters the lungs, making their work easier.
- During your day, at any time, when you think of it – take a good deep breath and exhale completely – push out every last ounce of breath. This will help clean the lungs of waste and toxins.
- Check in with your breathing. Take a moment here and there to check your breath – and if necessary, slow it down consciously by deep breathing and exhaling. Under stress we often actually hold our breath for a while and stop breathing – check in and breathe!
- Whenever you are feeling tense, whether mental, emotional or physical stress, take a deep breath. This brings you back to life! And back in touch with your feelings! Try it!