Deep Breathing Exercises and Their Benefits

Ancient Pranayama techniques are becoming better known in the Western world as now scientists are able to study the beneficial changes in the brain and physiology as a result of meditation and deep breathing.
Deep breathing has been proven to have numerous mental and physical health benefits. Meditating on the breath allows our minds to focus on the present. Deep breathing and meditation help to get out of Fight or Flight mode (aka. The Autonomic nervous system) and to reset the nervous system so that we can go back to functioning from the Parasympathetic nervous system (aka. Rest and Digest). We are not meant to be in the Autonomic nervous system for long periods of time and chronic stress can contribute to many health problems.

Additionally, many people these days are dealing with shortness of breath from long-COVID and need to retrain their breathing, or they’ve have gotten used to shallow breathing as a result of stress, anxiety, or sucking their bellies in. According to Harvard Health, “shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion. The lowest part of the lungs doesn’t get a full share of oxygenated air. That can make you feel short of breath and anxious. Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.” What’s more, getting out of our stress response into a relaxation response helps our immunity, endocrine, and circulatory system.

The good news is, it can take as little as 4 breaths to start to bring calm into the racing mind or tense body – and usually it’s the first deep breath that is the biggest step. But the best time to start focusing on the breath is before we are stressed or busy, so it will come easier to us when
we need it most. Like any new habit it can take practice. A breathwork practice can help us be more mindful of our breathing and wellbeing in the rest of our busy lives.

While many Western yoga classes focus on the fitness element of yoga and incorporate breathing while exercising, focusing on a series of yogic breathwork techniques feels like taking an internal shower, that cleanses and washes away tensions and stress. And once you discover how much better this ease feels in mind and body, and how much sleep, energy, digestion, etc. improves, it can help you get into a better flow in life and a new frame of mind.

To begin the breathwork, sit or lie comfortably. If seated, you can start by rolling the shoulders to open up the chest, or simply drop the shoulders. Check in to your body and areas where you are holding tension.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Place your hand on the upper part of your belly. Breathe in through nose, feel the belly expand, then breathe out slowly through the nose and feel the belly deflate. You may place your other hand on your chest. Focus on filling the belly like a balloon on the inhale, while the chest stays relatively still.

The diaphragm is the largest and main breathing muscle. Other muscles, such as those in the chest, are accessory muscles that aid in breathing. When we breathe in a way that is shallow and only into the chest this can make us feel anxious. Instead, we can focus on breathing into the belly.

Diaphragmatic breathing has a host of scientifically proven health benefits, and it can also be helpful to Covid long-haulers who feel short of breath.

Pursed lip breathing

Those who have shortness of breath due to long-COVID, asthma and CLPD also benefit from pursed breathing or breathing out through a straw.

Inhale through the nose (slowly counting for 2 seconds or so). (If you can comfortably do so, breathe into the belly as you do this.) Breathe out slowly through the mouth as if you are breathing out through a straw (for 4-6 seconds).

Inhale slowly through the nose. Breathe out through the mouth as if you are breathing out through a straw.

Making the exhale slow and longer than the inhale is helpful for many areas of health, such as stress and anxiety.

Sighing breath

It is natural for us to sigh in relief once we are done with a stressful event where we may have been holding our breath or shallow breathing.

Breathe in through the nose and into the belly and then breathe out through the mouth with an audible sigh. Repeat 3 times.

Practice breathwork for 10-20 minutes or more, once or twice per day and especially in periods of stress.

I hope that you will give yourself permission to relax and practice self-care, and I hope you will find a little more ease in your life after these breathing exercises. Namaste.

Share with someone who needs this!

Written by a YTT and Restorative Yoga certified yoga teacher.

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