From the day we are born, to the day we die, we breathe. As a part our involuntary body functions, breathing is done without any thought or attention. Make no mistake, however, this essential function we take for granted is very complex. Research has shown that simple adjustments to our breathing can actually improve our overall health and reduce our stress levels. When under stress, our breathing tends to become more frequent and shallow. In contrast to this innate reaction, whose origins stem from our “fight or flight” response, to relax one needs to focus on slow, deep breaths.
Deep breathing is the foundation to many holistic relaxation techniques. To properly execute mindful, deep breathing takes a little practice. The key to deep breathing is to breathe from the abdomen. This maximizes the amount of air into the lungs in contrast to the more shallow breathing we typically see by breathing solely from our upper chests. Slow deep breathing using your diaphragm and abdomen will cause the heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure to drop and provide more oxygen to your body to relieve stress and boost relaxation. Studies have shown, as in exercising, the stress producing hormone ,cortisol, is significantly lower in subjects who practiced slow deep breathing. This suggests further that stress relief can be chemically triggered and reduced by slow deep breathing.
Here is a simple exercise on how you can practice deep breathing:
- Sit comfortably in a chair and put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach
- Slowly breathe and inhale through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise while the one on your chest should barely move. Hold your breath for 2 to 5 seconds.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth for 2 to 5 seconds. The hand on your stomach should contract inward while the hand on your chest should barely move.
- Repeat the same process by breathing in through your nose exhaling through your mouth while paying attention to the in and out movement of your stomach. Start off by practicing this for 10 minutes each day. In time it will become a habit.
Remember, when stressed, as simple as it may sound, the quickest and easiest way to relieve momentary stress is to focus in on your breathing. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, then slowly exhale through your mouth. If you can shut
your eyes, and couple this with deep breathing, and a positive mental picture in your mind, all the better.