We often don’t think about the act of breathing. Breathing is automatic, but it can be controlled and used in a therapeutic way with proper guidance. I recently started practicing yoga a few times a week; this practice has reminded me of the importance of breath and the power it has to shift our physical and mental states. During yoga, the teacher is always bringing our awareness back to breath, which brings a floating mind back to the body and the task at hand. It’s kind of amazing how awareness of such an automatic function can calm you down.
Deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, is a simple technique that can be practiced every day and applied to normal or stressful times. The diaphragm is a large, thin muscle at the base of chest, it separates the chest and abdominal cavities. When we inhale it moves down, creating a vacuum effect to suck air in. When we exhale it moves up, pushing air out.
Diaphragmatic/deep breathing steps:
- Inhale through the nose to a count of 4
- Try to move the breath into the belly before filing up the chest
- Hold for 2 seconds
- Exhale through the nose to a count of 5
If these counts are too long, shorten to your comfort
There are numerous benefits to deep breathing.
First, increasing oxygen intake to the brain, can improve brain function. In particular, breathing affects the gamma waves, which involve the neocortex (frontal, parietal, and temporal area); these areas are activated for cognitive function. Improved memory, attention and problem-solving skills are associated with regular deep breathing.
Second, deep breathing helps with increasing venous return, which means bringing blood from the limbs back to the heart. Increasing circulation helps move toxins and other waste products out of the body, which could decrease inflammation.
Third, deep breathing has influence on the nervous system. With regular practice it can decrease firing of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and increase & strengthen parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) firing. Practicing diaphragmatic breathing regularly for 3 months may change the way your nervous system responds to stressful events and stimuli.
You can train yourself to be more relaxed with your breath!
I have found that bringing awareness to my breath has eased mental strain and reminded me that relaxation doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. De-cluttering can happen on all levels- in your physical space, your body, your mind, and heart. Focused breath is gentle way to prioritize yourself among a hectic life.