Just breathe. Easy enough, right? After all, breathing is something we do unconsciously about 23,000 per day. But why is breathing so powerful and why does it matter if we put some thought into it?
Breathing heals on many levels and it’s good for both our physical and mental well-being. Of course we know that breathing is necessary to life. Our breath constantly converts our life-sustaining energy, taking in oxygen, invigorating red blood cells and expelling carbon dioxide, a metabolic waste product.
But if we put a little intention behind breathing and focus on taking deep breaths, we get much much more than just respiration. Here are 5 ways deep, intentional breathing can give you an extra physical and mental boost:
1. Zen out
When you breathe deeply, you allow the diaphragm to drop downward and the rib cage to expand. This creates more space for the lungs to inflate. More space = more air taken in = more oxygen in your body. By practicing deep breathing, increased oxygen floods into the body, which helps your heart rate to slow down thereby creating feelings of calmness and relaxation.
2. Calm down
Deep breathing is an ultra-effective way to calm the nervous system. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which bringing us into a relaxed state. Parasympathetic nervous system, often called ‘rest and digest’ functions in the opposite way to the sympathetic nervous system, which stimulates activities associated with the fight-or-flight response. This deep breathing = calm claimed is backed by a great deal of scientific research - check out THIS article published by Harvard Medical School.
3. Lighten up
Deep breathing benefits your mood by increasing the production of endorphins (i.e. pleasure-inducing neurochemicals) which promote feelings of happiness. While shallow breathing can lead to stress and anxiety, deep breathing induces a feeling of happiness, relaxation, and pleasure.
4. Stand up straight
Deep breathing can help improve your posture. Several studies have found that incorrect breathing and incorrect posture are directly related. When your posture isn’t correct, it can be difficult to engage in deep, diaphragmatic breathing. When we focus on breathing deeply, we fill our lungs with air and, in turn, this naturally makes us sit up straight or stand taller.
5. Pep up
When we take deep breaths, more air is drawn into our lungs. Since the lungs help generate maximum blood flow, proper air supply to the lungs is critical. Improved oxygenation of the blood also results in an enhanced metabolism and greater energy. With the proper oxygen supply, all your organs are revitalized, filling you with more energy and vigor each day.
How to do it
Breathing is so natural that we usually don’t put much thought into it. However, when we are too engrossed in work or are stressed and anxious, the breath becomes shallow. You may even stop breathing for a few seconds without realizing it! This is where some intentional breathing comes in to play.
Taking intentional, deep breaths is easy, free, and doesn’t require any special equipment. Here is a basic routine that will help you learn the basics of deep breathing:
Sit or lie down in a comfortable, quiet place. Allow yourself to be free from distractions for at least 5-10 minutes.
Inhale deeply, filling your lungs with air. Bring the air into your abdomen, not just your chest. Count slowly to five as you inhale.
Exhale deeply, emptying your lungs completely. Again, count slowly to five as you exhale. As you exhale, release tension from your muscles.
Continue to inhale and exhale deeply for several minutes, counting slowly to five each time. Concentrate on your breathing and counting. Let your mind take a break from distractions.
Ok, so that may seem easy (sit there and breathe) but I get that life is, well life! We are all busy, stressed, and sitting there breathing may not seem like the easiest thing to do. Here are a few simple tricks that can help you get into a deep breathing routine:
Get into a schedule. Mark out time each day for your breathing and make it a priority. Set an alarm on your phone that reminds you to do your breathing.
Place your hand on your abdomen while doing a breathing exercise to help you feel your way through the exercise. Your stomach should rise and fall noticeably while breathing.
If you can’t find time to set aside just for deep breathing, then make a conscious effort to breathe more deeply during everyday living, with a particular emphasis on exhaling completely, which is an important part of breathing properly. Every little bit helps.
Get a guided meditation app, such as Calm or Headspace. These short meditations will walk you through the breathing while giving your mind something to focus on (besides going over your grocery list).
Attend a yoga class. Yoga is all about breathing and mindfulness. Find a local class where you are encouraged to do deep breathing, or simply open YouTube and stream one of the many, many free yoga videos available online.