Stress limits us in so many ways. It throws our bodies into fight-or-flight mode, raising our heart rates and escalating our emotions. It prevents us from making rational decisions and responding to the people we love (or have to work with) calmly and in the manner we ourselves want to be spoken to. And, frankly, it just doesn’t feel great.
Well, I’ve got some good news for you: One of the best ways to relax both your body and your mind is also one of the cheapest and easiest. You can do it at home and at work, in your car and in bed. You can do it with others or you can do it alone. All you need to do is breathe … the right way.
Consequences of Poor Breathing
Patrik Edblad of Selfication gives an excellent look at proper breathing technique and the ways poor practices can limit our health and serenity. For example, “sucking at breathing” can lead to:
- An unbalanced nervous system
- Tight airways
- Constricted blood vessels
- Less energy
- Reduced brain and heart function
- Stiff, tense muscles
Most of us breathe wrong, sucking in our stomachs and pulling air from high in our chests. Our bodies are designed, though, to breath from our bellies, where our diaphragm is located. And take note, says BestHealth: “If you’re guilty of holding in your stomach so that it looks flatter – and many women are – then you definitely aren’t using your diaphragm properly.”
No good, right? Luckily, the opposite is also true. When you breathe properly you open your airways, pull your nervous system into alignment, have more energy, and help your brain, heart, vessels and muscles work more effectively.
The Right Way to Breathe
When we’re relaxed, we breathe slowly and evenly. As it happens, breathing in ways that mimic relaxation can actually make us feel more relaxed.
The first step toward proper breath is to suck air in from the base of your chest cavity instead of higher up. To find your diaphragm, place your hands on your belly and feel where it expands when you inhale. This spot is where you should aim to draw breath toward every time.
Other proper breathing techniques include
- Breathing in and out for roughly the same period of time (or slightly longer on the exhale), pausing briefly between inhales and exhales
- Breathing through your nose
- Slow your breathing down, aiming for between 8 and 10 breaths per minute.
- Breathing smoothly, without unnatural hitches
And remember, practice makes perfect. While at first these breathing techniques can feel unnatural, in time you will learn to do it without thinking, and your new way of breathing will come as automatically as the old way. With it will come reduced stress and fight-or-flight responses, and increased relaxation and serenity.
With enough practice, you will learn to use your breath to calm down quickly in tense or upsetting situations, to moderate your heart rate and to cool emotions. Your breath will become the trusted friend you can always turn to when you need to. It will never let you down.