How stress affects our breathing
When we are stressed out our primitive (reptilian) brain interprets it as a threat and reacts in the fight-or-flight mode, changing our breathing pattern to small, shallow breaths. We know that in order to calm down, we should take deep breaths. So, how does deep breathing relieve stress?
Breathing deeply allows life-giving oxygen to be transported into our blood stream, nourishing the cells and tissues in our body. It is essential for life. The breath, also known as chi (Chinese) or prana (Hindu) has been recognised by ancient eastern cultures as a universal, life giving energy force.
The importance of deep breathing
Our minds and body are interdependent. Our thoughts affect our breathing and vice versa. Therefore, when we control our breathing it influences our thoughts and our biological functions.
When we are in the stress mode and typically taking small shallow breaths, the supply of energy-giving oxygen to our body is limited. If we suffer from prolonged or chronic stress and lack of oxygen in our cells, our body’s functions become compromised and disease eventually sets in.
In order to counteract disease and to stay energetic and healthy it is very important to become mindful of our breath and to start taking deep, slow breaths.
When we do so we activate the parasympathetic nervous system and that reverses the stress response in our body. It slows down the heart rate, lowers our blood pressure and calms our body and mind.
The benefits of deep breathing exercises
- Increased mental, physical and spiritual capacity.
- Increased energy levels.
- Reduced anxiety and depression.
- It helps you to be calm, relaxed and focused.
- Resilience to stress and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- It helps you to stay healthy.
- Improved performance in sports, business and studies.
Changing our breathing habits
In today’s fast paced and increasingly chaotic world we are under constant pressure and stress, which creates the habit of taking shallow breaths. We can counteract the shallow breathing habit by replacing it with the practice of conscious breathing exercises every day.
There are many different breathing techniques that focus on different outcomes, but it is best to start off with a simple breathing exercise. It is also a useful tool to use just before your mediation practice. It will help you to calm your mind and center yourself.
Simple breathing exercise:
Find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed. Sit down comfortably with your back straight and relax your shoulders. Allow your hands to rest face up on your thighs.
Remember to take slow and deep breaths, breathing into the belly and then filling your lungs to the maximum.
- Gently close your eyes.
- Breathe in to the count of 4.
- Keep the breath in to the count of 4.
- Let the breath out to the count of 6
- Wait for 2 counts.
- Repeat this sequence 8 times.
Do it over again until you feel that your mind has calmed down.
Once you have incorporated your breathing exercises into your daily routine, it will eventually become second nature to you – a good habit! And you will quickly notice the results – improved health and vitality.