“Breathing easily and fully is one of the basic pleasures of being alive.” (Alexander Lowen)
Breathing is one of our most basic bodily functions, but despite the fact that we’ve been doing it for as long as we’ve been alive, it’s quite possible that we’re doing it all wrong.
Breathing is one of the few processes that we can control both consciously and unconsciously. It’s the only process that both delivers oxygen to our body and removes carbon dioxide.
Our breath is controlled by specialized centers in the brainstem, which regulates it according to our body’s needs. If we’re sleeping, for instance, our levels of carbon dioxide are lower, which doesn’t necessitate a higher frequency of breathing.
We can also actively and consciously control our breath, and if you’re into running or yoga or meditation, this might be something you’re well aware of, having to regulate your breath along with your activity.
HOW YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG
If we’re not breathing properly, this robs our bodies of the oxygen that we need — which can lead to a number of other health problems, including higher blood pressure and weak muscles.
If you’ve ever watched an infant sleep, you’ll see their tummy rise and fall — not just their chest. We’re born knowing how to breathe correctly, but (like everything else) stress and anxiety take their toll on us, especially our breathing.
When we’re anxious, our bodies are in “fight or flight” mode, resulting in shorter breaths and overall tension.
If we’re in a constant state of stress, we’re essentially hyperventilating, and aren’t even using our lungs to their fullest extent. “This leads to a poor exchange of oxygen and CO2 in the bloodstream, depriving our bodies of both vital gases.”
BENEFITS OF BREATHING PROPERLY
Luckily, we’re able to make some small improvements that can make a big impact on our health — relieve stress, increase the delivery rate of oxygen to our body, and help our digestive and lymphatic systems.
By controlling the rhythm of our inhale and exhale, and by taking measured, relaxing breaths, we’re sending a message to the rest of our body. We’re no longer in “fight or flight” mode — we’re telling our muscles to ease up, our heart rate to become steady. All good things.
BREATHING TIPS THAT YOU CAN USE RIGHT NOW
Make a note to check in on your breathing throughout the day — set an alarm if that helps. Are you taking short breaths? Are they shallow? Are you breathing in a rhythmic, relaxed way, through your nose?
Being aware of your breath will help you assess where you might need improvement.
Find a space and time where you can focus on your breathing, and take the following steps. (Note: don’t try too hard. This isn’t about perfection.)
- Start by sitting up straight, or you can lie down — the goal is to leave your diaphragm room to move, since that’s the muscle that we engage when we’re inhaling and exhaling. You should be comfortable and settled in your position.
- Breathe through your nose. If you’re congested, try a nasal cleanse so that you can breathe more easily.
- Focus on your breath and its rhythm. Breathe deeply, and think about filling your lungs. If it helps, place a hand on your belly, which should move gently up and down.
- Extend your exhale (this one helps me the most). Your inhale should be about 3 seconds long, and your exhale should be about 4 seconds. Again, perfection here is not the point. You want to regulate your breathing, but it’s not boot camp.
- Take note of what’s going on in the rest of your body. You should be relaxed and comfortable, and each breath should ease you further into relaxation.
- Try to clear your head, just focusing on your breathe. Our thoughts might drift towards the stresses of the day — let them come and go. Go back to your breathing, focus on filling your lungs, and getting all of that lovely oxygen to your body.
Sometimes I’m just too distracted or scattered to slow down enough for breathing exercises. There are a TON of resources and videos out there that can help guide you through your breathing. I find that listening to a meditation (or even a song I really enjoy) forces me to get lost in something else other than my own anxiety.
Ultimately, the goal here is to be aware — of how tense we are, where we’re carrying our stress, and finding ways to slow all of that down and relax (even just for 5-10 minutes a day).
How often do you take time to breathe?
Take 5-10 minutes to breathe, and enhance your experience with a few of our aromatherapy products at Soap Hope!