You know that old saying, “take a deep breath?” There’s something to it. One of the fastest ways to get the relaxation response to kick in when you are feeling overwhelmed and frazzled beyond words is to breathe, but somehow we always forget to do this simple, ever-present act. Instead we clench our teeth, grab the steering wheel in traffic, scream at our loved ones. What if we just sat and breathed in a certain way for five minutes to calm ourselves in stressful times? What if that’s all it took to allow our emotions to level off, out cortisol levels to drop, and our energy to be calm and strong?
It may sound over simplified, but breathing correctly — with the right ratio of inhale to exhale — really can reduce stress, calm your mind, energize you, and over time when practiced consistently, heal you from diseases caused by stress.
Use the Breath to Check In
Our breathing is also an excellent way to find our if we are stressed. We get so used to hunkering down and fighting through it in life that we stop noticing our body’s small, shining voice to slow down and pay attention. That’s what the breath can do. Show us when our stress levels are rising, like a tide slowly coming in from the sea. We can then deal with our stress while the waves are small so that they don’t become a tsunami of fear, anxiousness, and fear.
You’ll notice when you are starting to be stressed, you will breath in shallow, quick breaths, and often even hold your breath. This not only causes your fight-or-flight response to start working, but your body begins to dump stress hormones into your bloodstream like cortisol and adrenaline.
When you breathe deeply – even in the face of the same life-circumstances that usually cause you to tense up and feel anxious – you will notice that the same problems seem a thousand times more solvable.
How to Breathe for Stress Relief in Five Minutes or Less
You can do the following breathing exercise either sitting tall as if you were going to meditate, or lying down with your knees bent and your hands resting on your lower abdomen so that you can make sure you are “breathing with your shoulders,” – that is allowing your shoulders to tense up as you inhale instead of allowing your belly to expand as you engage your diaphragm.
You can also do this in a quiet place, or if hard-pressed, in your car in the middle of peak traffic or even as you stand in line for a subway car. Use your imagination – breathing is readily available ON DEMAND to help soother your frazzled nerves and heal you.
Simply take a deep inhale in through the nose, allowing the tongue to rest against the top-teeth on the upper palate. Breathe deeply, but don’t force the breath. Then slowly exhale. The key here is to breathe out at least twice as long as you breathe in.
For example, if you breathe in for five counts, try to breathe out for ten counts. This will start to naturally deepen your breathing rhythm. Your subsequent in breath might then be six counts long, so you would try to breathe out for 12 counts, and so on.
Just be sure not to overtax your lungs by forcing a deep breath, and instead allow a deep breath to wash over you. Your lung capacity and ability to breathe even more deeply will grow stronger with practice.
If you are lying down, allow your belly to rise, and try to keep it rising as you breathe in. Allow it to fall back into the floor as you exhale. You can even draw the belly in toward the spine slightly to extend your exhale.
The Rewards of Breathing in the 1:2 Ratio
When you breathe like this even for five minutes you’ll find that you:
- Have more lucid thoughts
- Emotions even out – grief, anger, fear, frustration, anxiety, and sadness are easier to digest
- Almost 70% of the toxins in your body can be released through a deep breath (carbon dioxide is a natural waste of your body’s metabolism, including cellular waste that must be metabolized)
- Your muscles will relax
- Your heart rate will drop
- Your body stops making stress hormones that over-tax the adrenal glands leading to adrenal fatigue
- Your vital organs get more oxygen
- Your brain gets more oxygen and therefore works better
- Your immune system is boosted because the oxygen travelling through your bloodstream attaches to haemoglobin in your red blood cells brining nutrients and vitamins where they are most needed
- You’ll digest your food better
- You’ll have more stamina
- You’ll be less likely to binge eat
- You’ll feel less physical pain
- Your cells will regenerate faster
- With practice, breathing can induce feelings of euphoria, but in initial stages of practice boosts mood