Breathing exercises can help both our mental and physical well-being. While breathing may appear to be the most simple thing we could possibly do, somehow many of us are getting it wrong. First, a little story…
When I was barely ten years old I started developing shortness of breath problems. I simply could not catch my breath. After asthma was ruled out the only remaining culprit was anxiety…
This shortness of breath problem never left me as I went into adulthood. At any given moment of discomfort or stress, particularly social anxiety, I find myself not catching full breaths. I sometimes have to yawn repeatedly to feel as though I’m getting enough oxygen. Panic attacks used to be part of the unfortunate equation.
When I was working as a lawyer my breathing issues became so severe at times that I swore there was something wrong with my lungs that all previous doctors had missed. Surely I was diseased. So I went to a pulmonary specialist. He performed a stress test where they hook you up to heart and lung monitors as you peddle away on a stationary bike. My doctor’s diagnosis: “You have the heart and lungs of an athlete.” Would you believe I was devastated?
I hated the thought that my inability to breathe properly was totally me-made.
As I grew older I learned more about the power of breathing to ease anxiety and that many people are breathing too shallowly throughout their everyday lives. Our most important source of energy is oxygen and yet as we go into adulthood we start taking shorter and shorter breaths which weakens our immune system and mental focus.
Women in particular often learn to “suck it in” to make sure their bellies appear as flat as possible but that very act is cutting off the proper circulation of oxygen when we breathe. Bellies out ladies.
One of the healthiest and simplest things we can learn to do for both our physical and mental well-being is to practice healthy breathing techniques.
Here are a few breathing techniques to help you reduce anxiety and improve your overall health:
Breathing with your Diaphragm
When you breathe you stomach should be expanding, not just your chest. This allows your lungs to take in more oxygen. You can practice this by either lying on your back or even incorporating it into your daily meditation. If you lie on your back, put your hands on your stomach, legs bent, and take deep long breaths. Inhale through your nose letting your stomach expand with each breath. As you breathe out through your mouth your stomach should sink in. Your chest should hardly be moving.
I recently started meditating in the morning and my meditation is all about focusing on my breathing (and clearing my mind in the process). I sit up straight with my legs in Indian style and I keep one hand on my stomach. I start by taking a few deep cleansing breaths. Then for the remainder of the time I keep my hand on my stomach to make sure I’m taking deep slow breaths into my diaphragm.
The more you practice deep breathing exercises the more you will automatically breathe deep into your diaphragm. Whenever I’m feeling anxiety, particularly if I’m in public, I simply put my hand on my stomach and take deep long breaths. I started doing this years ago and it completely eliminated my panic attacks.
Alternate Nostril Breathing for Stress
This technique further increases relaxation. You simply:
- Hold your right nostril closed with the thumb of your right hand and slowly inhale through your left nostril.
- Then close your left nostril with your pointer finger and exhale through your right nostril.
- Then inhale through your right nostril.
- Then close your right nostril with your thumb and exhale through your left nostril.
- Then inhale through your left nostril.
You can practice doing multiple rounds of this daily or whenever you’re feeling a lot of anxiety.
Breathing for an Abundant Mindset
This technique was taught to me by a dear friend and yogi and it’s more about teaching yourself self-worth (less about relaxation). I found it extremely interesting because my shortness of breath problems directly correlated with self-esteem issues. So learning to program my breathing to foster an abundant mindset resonated deeply with me.
You simply breath in deeply for 5 seconds and then breathe out for only 2 seconds. Try to repeat 4 or 5 times in a row. The goal with this technique is to teach yourself to accept an abundance of oxygen, and let that feeling of abundance carry into other areas of your life.
There are many other breathing techniques out there but I’ve found these to be particularly helpful, effective, and easy to practice in your everyday life.
Do you ever find that you’re breathing too shallowly? What do you do when you feel anxiety or short of breath?
A few useful links on breathing:
Dennis Lewis, Explorations into Breath…
Breathing Exercises for Living Life and Loving It
Dr. Weil Breathing: Three Exercises
Oprah.com: Is the Way You Breathe Bad for Your Health?
Anxiety Slayer: Anxiety Exercise