You wouldn’t think there’d be a tutorial on something as basic as breathing,.. every living person does it, right? But as it turns out, many people try to do this “deep breathing” thing, and don’t get the most out of it; then conclude that it doesn’t work. So, if you’ve tried this before, I encourage you to give it another go with my instructions and see if it doesn’t help.
Deep breathing is an exercise often encouraged when you’re feeling anxious or restless and having trouble sleeping. If you’ve ever been in a yoga class they might have instructed you on how to breathe from your diaphragm, for the purpose of centering and relaxing yourself before meditation. While teaching my clients how to use deep breathing to help reduce their anxiety, I’ve noticed myself repeating these tips:
- Breathe from the diaphragm, not the chest. We tend to do shallow breathing from our lungs because it’s quicker and mostly efficient for our daily needs. Shallow breathing uses the lungs and only cycles out a small percentage of your lungs’ actual capacity for air. Inhaling brings oxygen from the atmosphere into the lungs to enter our blood stream and feed our cells. Deep breathing captures more of our lungs capacity, bringing a greater amount of oxygen into our bodies. To tell if you are deep breathing or shallow breathing, lie down or sit comfortably and place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach. Take a breathe and notice which hand rises. If you are shallow breathing your chest hand will rise, and if you are deep breathing the hand on your stomach will rise. Keep playing around with different ways of breathing until you can make your stomach hand rise. Here is a YouTube video demonstrating diaphragmatic breathing.
- Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Both the inhale and the exhale should be smooth and as slow as you can handle.
- Exhale completely. This is one of the biggest errors in deep breathing! Try exhaling now and when you think you’ve done it, stop. Now without inhaling, see if you can exhale again. This should feel like your abs are contracting and your lungs are squeezing out every ounce of air they have left. Now you have truly, fully exhaled. With complete exhales you’ll cycle more stale air our of your lungs to be replaced with fresh, richly oxygenated air.
- Complete an inhale/exhale cycle at least 5 times. When people “stop and take a deep breath” they tend to do exactly that, just one big breath. Or at most three. If each breath is only cycling out a fraction of your lung’s capacity of stale air, then you’ll need to do it multiple times to get the benefits of a full lungful of fresh air. Experiment with five to ten breaths and see what works for you.
If this has worked for you, you may feel slightly tingly or even ready to lie down for a nap. Deep breathing not only clears out air pollutants and stale air from the lungs, it activates your Parasympathetic Nervous System, which is responsible for the sensation of being relaxed. This is a great technique to use whenever you’re feeling anxious or might become anxious. I have found it most useful at the start of my day, when I notice I’m holding my breath, and before falling asleep.
Questions, comments, concerns? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org