Our parents had it right from the start when they told us to stop and breathe before acting all those years ago. Remember those days? While it went against what you may have been feeling at the time, a few simple breaths magically restored you back to normal, ridding you of anger, stress, or frustration. If it worked then, it can surely work now, right?
According to research that was conducted at Northwestern University, Harvard, the National Institute of Health, and the University of New Mexico, mindful breathing has numerous positive effects, including reduced inflammation, lower blood pressure levels, and improved immune function. The most important of these researched benefits was the decrease in cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. The stressed or anxious body can cause you to breathe improperly, failing to completely release the breath. Basic deep breathing focuses on filling the belly with air, completely expelling the breath, and repeating this cycle to establish a healthy mind/body connection. Try the following breathing exercises to help reduce stress.
Refocusing Attention: Box Breathing
Marathon runners and elite athletes have used this technique to get in the zone before workouts, races, or drills. Box breathing works to quiet the mind and silence the outside world, helping the individual focus on the task at hand. To start, sit up straight and exhale all of your air and hold for four seconds. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and then exhale for four seconds. That is one round of box breathing, and you should complete five to eight rounds of this to calm the mind.
Combating Anxiety: Slow Breathing
Slow breathing works to engage your sympathetic nervous system, thereby flooding your body with hormones that can make you feel tense or out of control. You may feel light-headed, but this is perfectly normal as you flood the body with oxygen and expel the carbon dioxide. The purpose of slow breathing is to help your body relax, which is it’s natural response to being amped up by the breathing. Inhale deeply through the nose for three to five seconds, hold your breath for three to five seconds, and then exhale out your mouth for three to five seconds. Complete four to eight rounds of this technique.
Relaxing With Imagery: Visualization Breathing
Get into a comfortable position, be it sitting up straight or lying down, and close your eyes. Start by breathing in through your nose and out of your mouth. With each inhale, think of your abdomen as an inflating balloon. As you exhale, imagine that your balloon is deflating, but you don’t want to force the air out. The air should release naturally. Expand on this visual of a balloon to imagine that your breath is allowing it to carry you across the sky. The point of this exercise is to focus on engaging your diaphragm with each breath, as opposed to shallow breathing, which can induce stress.
Breathing For Sleep: 4-7-8 Breathing
People who have a hard time falling asleep commonly use this breathing technique, but it is also used as a way to relax the body. You can do this lying down or sitting up. To start, engage your diaphragm to take a deep breath in, counting to four seconds during your inhale. Hold your breath for seven seconds, and then breathe out completely for eight seconds to expel the air from your lungs. Repeat this process three to seven times, or until you feel calm.