The act of breathing is an involuntary action but when we focus deeply on that breath, the benefits can be felt throughout our body. Whether you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, looking to begin a meditative practice or just want to become more in-tune with your body, breathing exercises can be a beneficial routine.
You may notice it becoming harder to breathe when you’re feeling anxious or stressed— your chest tightens and it feels like you’re gasping for a full breath of air. In these moments, “emergency signals” are being sent to your brain, signifying danger is near (also known as “fight or flight.”)
The trouble with this is, as stated by PsychCentral, these signals are the same responses our ancient ancestors received when danger was nearby; in non-life threatening situations, “your brain can’t comprehend the difference between a stressful conversation with your boss and a predator that wants to eat you.”
In anxiety-ridden situations, people will tell you to “just breathe.” In those moments, a statement like that can feel maddening; obviously, you’d breathe if you could! But developing easy-to-follow breathing patterns can help give your body and mind the rest it needs.
The benefits of deep breathing
Deep breathing is the “conscious act of taking slow, deep breaths.” While the overall goal is to reduce your stress levels, it can also:
- lower blood pressure and heart rate
- reduce muscle tension
- boost your immune system
- return your body to a calmer, relaxed state
Breathing exercises also can be beneficial for sleep, building meditation practices, stress reduction and reducing the build-up of lactic acid in your muscles.
Breathing exercises and resources
Below are a few of the most popular breathing practices that can be implemented into your daily life or when anxiety starts to build.
- Counting your breath (box breathing)
- Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, hold for four seconds and repeat.
- Belly breathing
- When you inhale, focus on sending the air into and filling up your abdomen. Hold for four seconds and exhale through pursed lips.
- Follow a guided meditation
- A quick YouTube search will bring up hundreds of guided meditations you can follow. Whether you’re just beginning to meditate or looking for some structure in your practice, videos can be very useful!
- Breathing and meditation apps
- Apps such as Calm, Headspace, iBreathe or Liberate have all risen in popularity and offer a variety of breathing and meditation exercises: from stress and anxiety reduction, to sleep improvement or positive affirmation meditation.
Set some time aside every day to practice different types of focused breathing to see which methods most benefit your needs. Whether you’re looking to manage anxiety or you want to improve your overall focus, the positive effects of breathing exercises have potential to make this a life-changing practice!