Oddly, most of us need lessons in proper breathing; either we don’t breathe properly; or, we don’t use our breathing to its fullest capacity, as in stress and pain management; and, sometimes the deep breathing exercise we’re practicing isn’t doing as much as it could.
Recent research confirms what some have understood for a long time: proper breathing is central to relaxation, pain management, healing, mindfulness, optimal brain activity and good health. Proper breathing is now scientifically proven to help anxiety conditions, asthma, allergies, heart health, improve digestion, stress management, pain control and increase brain function.
Research has found that proper breathing can improve HRV (Heart Rate Variability) and reduce immune activation. Breathing disorders, from asthma to tuberculosis, from emphysema to interstitial lung diseases, have been linked with an overactive immune system. The immune system is not the only system to benefit from proper breathing. The brain benefits as well.
In the past couple of decades there have been lots of DVD’s, videos, audios, classes, coaches, teachers, instructions, lessons, techniques, styles, orientations, and intentional breathing exercises; deep breathing exercises; energy inducing breathing techniques, and a growing body of types of relaxation breathing that have popularized. Unfortunately, we’re complicating a simple and natural activity. Stop, exhale. First, always exhale.
Watch your natural breathing rhythm upon waking or watch an infant’s sleep breathing. Mouth is closed. Abdomen inflates on the inhale and deflates on a slower exhale. This is our natural breathing state and when properly used, such as in the Basic Relaxation Breath exercise (described below), fitness routine completion, meditation warm-up and to de-stress, reduce pain and activate brain function, proper breathing is the key to excellent health, longevity and the management of any chronic condition.
Chased by a puma
During a yoga class in Los Angeles in 1979, the instructor cued the class to focus on our breathing for several minutes and gradually and gently slow it down. After several minutes, the energy in the room shifted and was calmer, quieter, and more powerful; with one exception, mine. It was as though a puma was chasing me and to this day, this image encourages me to use my breathing to its fullest potential and to teach this to as many people as are willing.
The Basic Relaxation Breath
Proper deep breathing will activate the vagus nerve, part of the CNS. It is here that our CNS switches from sympathetic mode, all the rev up activities, such as movement, digestion, and certain brain activity; to parasympathetic mode which directs all the slow down activities, such as relaxation, sleep, meditation, and certain brain activity. The Basic Relaxation Breath will activate the vagus nerve. The key is in the exhale and will turn the switch to begin producing feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin.
First, listen to your body. Physically, shake, stretch, wiggle, move, exercise for a minute to release surface tensions throughout the body. Now, sit tall in your spine. This breath may be done sitting, lying on your back or standing. Exhale through nose and mouth to transition your breathing. Again, exhale.
Then, breathe at your normal resting rate for a few breaths. It’s like taking your foot off the accelerator at 50 m.p.h.; it’s going to take a few moments for the engine to rev down to a slower idle.
Inhale and exhale through the nose only. Mouth is closed, however, you must be able to be at a normal resting rate of breathing. Keep your chest still. Bring the breath slowly down into the abdomen as you inflate the abdomen on the inhale; bring the inhale to its top and as you exhale through the nose, deflate the abdomen. The exhale wants to be long and slow; longer and slower than the inhale – up to twice as long; however, if you’re grabbing for the inhale at the end of the exhale, shorten the exhale next time through until the transition from exhale to inhale is smooth.
As we do the Basic Relaxation Breath, sometimes our breath will sneak back up into the chest; usually it’s because we’ve lost our focus and are now ‘thinking’ to which the brain must respond because our breathing has shifted; or, we just need a few more relaxation breaths to rev down a bit more.
Several continuous minutes of the Basic Relaxation Breath will activate the switch, the vagus nerve, that will bring you the relaxation hormones, and shift brain wave gears into Relaxation Response mode. From here, we feel calm, relaxed, quiet, composed, peaceful; we are breathing deeply, slowly, naturally. The descriptors vary but the results are universal: it is here that we heal the best and feel the best, so, therefore, do our best from our time doing this biological phenomena that is the key to optimal health, management of chronic conditions and increases longevity. And, we get to feel better any time we do it – no negative side effects.
Don’t hold your breath
Exhale for a boost of strength, balance and pain relief. The moment we anticipate pain, most of us tend to stop breathing and hold our breath. Breath holding activates the fight/flight/freeze response – adrenaline and cortisol – and this increases the sensation of pain, anxiety, or fear. Exhale at the moment of pain or anticipation of pain and your body will more quickly reduce the sensation of pain.
Our breathing is a powerful tool that we’re only just beginning to medically and scientifically validate. Use the Basic Relaxation Breath and you will be relaxed for life.
News: The Mind Aware Show, hosted by author, speaker, and radio host, Dana Wilde, has invited me to be an expert guest and interviewed on the show! This will be a recorded podcast so updates will follow. Fitness is really fun!
Thank you for reading, commenting, sharing and subscribing. Remember, fit is fun! Come see more of me at Finely Fit.