Why is Deep Breathing Important?
Deep breathing synchronizes many of the functions of the body. Our breath flows as life-giving oxygen into the blood, which then carries it to every part of the body, providing critical support for energy production in cells.
The first step in learning how to relax on command is learning to take deep, controlled breaths. Breathing is unique in that it is an “autonomic” or automatic response that can also be controlled with voluntary actions. When we control our breathing, it ties into other autonomic responses.
Slowing the rate of breathing is associated with a decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and adrenaline levels. Slowed breathing is also associated with increased production of endorphins, those wonderful natural chemicals that improve our sense of well-being.
Most of us breathe with our chest muscles. The more uptight we are, the shorter and shallower the breath becomes, and the more tension builds up in our shoulders and neck. When in a relaxed state, we naturally breathe using our abdominal muscles. Instead of using the chest wall muscles, we then mainly use the diaphragm.
Observe Your Breathe
Observe this by first lying comfortably on your back. Control and slow your breathing to an easy rhythm. Place one hand on the abdomen, close to the belly button.
As you breathe, try to keep the chest wall still and pull air into the lungs by expanding the abdominal muscles. Your hand should rise and fall with each breath. Breathing should be done through the nose, not the mouth. Inhalations and exhalations should be equal.
It takes a little practice. Relaxation happens quickly, even after only a few minutes. Focused concentration on breathing by itself is a simple and profoundly effective relaxation technique that can be done nearly anytime you have a few minutes. You can do this while waiting at a stoplight, during a break at the office, or while waiting for water to boil.
Simple Breathing Exercises
Exercise #1: Extending Your Breath
Using abdominal breathing, try to extend your breath for as long as possible without holding your breath. Inhales and exhales should be equal.
At first attempts, your inhale and exhale will be about 5-7 seconds each, but your goal is to extend each to 15 seconds, resulting in only 2 complete breaths in one minute. Don’t strain; make it easy and comfortable. You can practice this one anywhere, even at a stoplight.
You can breathe along to this gif from Duff the Psych:
Exercise #2: Counting Breaths
Another simple breathing exercise is counting your breaths to 10. Using abdominal breathing of normal length, begin counting each breath. Count first from 1-2, and then start over, 1-2-3. Continue with 1-2-3-4, and so forth, up to the sequence 1-10.
It takes more concentration than you can imagine. Completion of two sequences of 10 often results in deep relaxation with lowered pulse rate and normalized blood pressure. This is also a great exercise to improve focus.