‘Just breathe’

‘Deep breaths!’

‘Take a breath and count to ten’

When have you heard any of these? We bet it was at a time of high levels of stress.

When we face stressful situations, we go into the instinctive ‘fight or flight’ response. Living in a modern world means we will be exposed to prolonged stressful situations, where ‘fight or flight’ response will be activated too often, and we can develop chronic stress, anxiety, and various heart conditions!

Truth is, there are many reasons people will tell us to breathe when emotions are high. And that’s because breathing has many more qualities than just keeping us alive.

In fact, we can access AND manage our body and mind through being aware of our own breath! We are told to breathe when we are stressed, and that is because breathing is exactly powerful enough to improve our health!

In this article, we talk about the benefits of you using your breathing more consciously, give you tips to get breathing into your routine and share our favourite breathing exercises. Let’s improve our health by breathing!

Here’s what mindful breathing does…

  • Helps you lower your heart rate

When we’re under high amounts of pressure, our heart is pounding! But that’s okay, because breathing directly affects the cardiovascular system and we can slow it right down.

  • Helps lower your blood pressure

That’s right, you can lower your blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease just by breathing deeply. You can literally improve your overall health just by breathing!

  • Stimulates the Vagus nerve

When we face a high level of stress, our Sympathetic Nervous System gets activated. Sympathetic Nervous System switches on the fight-or-flight response, speeding up our heart rate, making our breath shallower, and getting us in a survival mode. Deep breathing stimulates the Vagus nerve, a part of our Parasympathetic Nervous system, responsible for our body coming back to a resting state.

  • Brings you to this moment

You can use breathing as a grounding exercise or an anchor when things get too intense!

  • Can improve your focus long term

Imagine the benefits of you being able to get back to your breath and check in with your body on a regular basis…

  • Is always with you

Out of many tools that you can use to manage how you feel, your breath is the one that is ALWAYS with you. You don’t have to go anywhere or even change your position to be able to access and control it.

Okay, so how do I start, you may ask? Luckily, you don’t have to do much to incorporate breathing into your mental and physical health.

Here are 4 quick exercises to try!

These can be tried on different occasions, and used for a range of different purposes. Here are four:

To build self-awareness!

Stay where you are, as you are.

Notice your breathing, and just observe…

Is it shallow, or is it deep? Is it going all the way down to your belly or is it stopping in your chest?

Is it slow, or is it fast?

Is it quiet, or is it loud?

Is it changing just because you are aware of it?

 

That’s it! Repeat it on different occasions to notice how your body responds to various situations. You can learn a lot from your breathing.

 

For example, if your breath is shallow and stops in your chest, it’s likely that you are stressed.

If your breath is slow and your belly expands as you inhale, you are probably relaxed and feeling safe.

 

To reduce your heart rate, quickly!

Sit still in a quiet place. Close your eyes and relax.

Take six deep breaths.

Focus on each inhale and exhale.

Repeat when needed.

This exercise is very simple, but it allows you to regulate your heart rate and lower your blood pressure.

 

To teach your body how to relax!

Place one hand on your abdomen beneath your ribcage. Inhale slowly and deeply – your hand should rise. Now exhale slowly and your hand should fall.

As you take each breath in, count to five, pause and breathe out to the count of five.

Do ten of these breaths.

This exercise can be used to increase levels of relaxation or a measure if you identify stress or panic. Once you have learned the technique and are confident that you are doing it correctly you do not need to keep your hand in place on your belly.

 

To distract yourself!

Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly.

As you inhale slowly, expand your belly, then your ribcage, then your chest.

As you exhale, empty your chest, then your ribcage, then your belly.

Repeat six times (or however many times you like!).

Feel the difference?

This is just a variation of the belly breathing exercise above, but it’s more playful as you get to visualise your body as a wave! What a quick distraction to what is going on around you by looking in.

 

To stimulate your Vagus nerve

Inhale deeply and exhale with a loud, cleansing sigh. Feel free to make it as loud and dramatic as you want!

or

Sing a song – you are breathing out for much longer than breathing in when you sing!

As mentioned above, Vagus nerve is an all-important part of our Parasympathetic Nervous System, which helps reduce the heart rate, dilate our blood vessels and for our digestive system to return to normal. By breathing deeply and stimulating our Vagus nerve we can improve our overall health in the long term.

Which breathing exercises do you fancy the most?

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