“Take a deep breath, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.” – Nat King Cole, 1944
Deep breathing exercises just might save your sanity. In particular as we are approaching the sometimes-stressful holiday season, we need to “decompress” and find both the peace and the energy we need this time of year.
The next time you feel angry, stressed, or anxious, pay attention to your breathing. Chances are when negative emotions run high, your breaths become short and shallow. In fact, I would bet that many of us rarely take more than a couple deep breaths during an entire day, even when we’re not feeling stressed (and when is that?). And if you’re not taking deep breaths, you could be missing out on one of the simplest ways to drastically improve your health.
Stress management is an important key for improving your health and quality of living, and I believe deep breathing exercises are a foundational principle of managing life’s stresses. Whether you experience negative emotions or physical pain, the body responds in a similar way every time. You may experience a rapid heartbeat, tightening muscles, dilated pupils and perspiration in addition to short, quick breaths. This is not only an instinctual reaction, but a habit the body has developed over time in response to stressful situations. And any time you feel a twinge of anger or anxiety coming on, the body starts pumping out the juices (namely adrenaline and cortisol) that fuel this response once again.
So, what exactly do deep breathing exercises do for you? When you learn to take deep, slow breaths, your body reacts in many positive ways:
#1 – Your muscles relax. You’ll find it’s hard to maintain a lot of physical tension when breathing properly.
#2 – Oxygen delivery improves. When you breathe deeply and you are relaxed, fresh oxygen pours into every cell in the body. This increases the functionality of every system in the body. You will also notice improved mental concentration and physical stamina.
# 3 – Your blood pressure lowers. As your muscles let go of tension, your blood vessels dilate and your blood pressure can return to a normal level.
#4 – Endorphins are released. Deep breathing triggers the release of endorphins, which improves feelings of well-being and provides pain-relief.
#5 – Detoxification improves. Good breathing habits help the lymphatic system function properly, which encourages the release of harmful toxins. This cleanses the body and allows it to direct its energy to more productive functions.
Deep breathing exercises are very easy to do if you take the time to do them properly. Here is a basic routine that will help you learn the ropes of deep breathing:
- Lie down in a comfortable, quiet place. Allow yourself to be free from distractions for at least five to 10 minutes.
- Give yourself a moment to start relaxing your muscles. Seek out places that are holding tension and release it.
- Inhale deeply, filling your lungs with air. Bring the air into your abdomen, not just your chest. Count slowly to five as you inhale.
- Exhale deeply, emptying your lungs completely. Again, count slowly to five as you exhale. As you exhale, release tension from your muscles.
- Continue to inhale and exhale deeply for several minutes, counting slowly to five each time. Concentrate on your breathing and counting. Let your mind take a break from distractions.
Try and do this exercise (or something similar) at least once a day. During these trying times in our world and the anxiety that can be a result, we need to rely on coping mechanisms which are healthy and beneficial to our bodies and our minds. By following all recommended CDC and health provider protocols, we will get through this!
Sharon McMahon, CNWC
The opinions expressed in this article are not intended to replace advice of your personal physician or licensed health professional. Please consult your physician for any issues you may have related to nutrition or fitness activity.