Controlled breathing exercises work well for relaxation and handling mental stress
Breathing is the most natural thing in our life. We breathe on an average 12-15 times in a minute, which translates to about 20,000 times a day.
Since it’s so natural to breathe, we are often unaware of it. Most of us don’t breathe correctly, and it’s shallow breathing most of the time. We don’t take the full breaths we’re capable of, and that can have wide ramifications on our work and well-being. Our intake of oxygen is, therefore, less than optimal, with most of it not reaching the lower part of our lungs.
This is important because many small blood vessels responsible for carrying oxygen to cells are located in the lowest portion of the lungs. When these areas don’t get adequate oxygen, we tire easily and can feel short of breath.
The way we breathe directly affects every organ, system, and function of our body. Our health and well-being depend on it. In fact, breathing is also related to our emotions.
When we are angry or stressed or fearful, our breathing is especially shallow. To improve health, happiness, and overall well-being, paying attention to breathing is essential. Breathing exercises work well for relaxation and handling mental stress.
Proper deep breathing also increases our self-awareness and ability to concentrate and focus. We become more mindful. Spending as little as 20 minutes a day on deep breathing exercises can bring many positive changes to our overall health.
- Most of us have noticed that when we take deep breaths, we feel relaxed.
- We are also advised to take a few deep breaths when we feel angry.
When people say “Take a deep breath” at a time of acute stress or anger, it’s not merely a cliché but has a sound medical basis.
Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to our brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and calmness.
Breathing techniques help us feel connected to our body as they remove awareness from any negativity. So, the mind gets quiet.
The best way to feel relaxed, especially under stressful conditions, is to do breathing exercises. It’s a quick and easy remedy also for anxiety.
Proper breathing technique acts on anxiety by automatically slowing the heart rate and lowering or stabilizing blood pressure. The effect on anxiety is almost instant.
Most of the time, we breathe shallowly, in a way that limits the diaphragm’s range of movement. So, the lowest part of the lungs doesn’t get the full amount of oxygenated air. That can make us feel short of breath and anxious.
By way of deep breathing exercises, oxygen intake increases, causing greater circulation of the blood. Significantly more oxygen reaches the internal organs.
Breathing correctly in a controlled fashion also helps strengthen the immune system, which in turn improves our overall health.
Enhanced too is our capacity to concentrate and be attentive to whatever is at hand.
Many lifestyle diseases can be managed and controlled by regular practice of yoga, breathing exercises, and meditation.
Studies have established that controlled and deep breathing increases the activity of the vagus nerve, a part of the parasympathetic nervous system.
The vagus nerve controls the activity of many internal organs of our body.
When the vagus nerve is stimulated, our body becomes calm, the heart rate slows down and becomes regular; blood pressure decreases, and muscles get relaxed.
As a result, we become deeply relaxed and can experience an increased feeling of serenity and quietness. Therefore, breathing exercise works through both neurobiological and psychological mechanisms.
The art of controlling and regulating the breath apparently began in prehistoric times, when yogis practiced pranayama to improve their health.
In fact, Buddha also advocated breath-centered meditation to realize enlightenment. In our own times, as science started conducting studies on breathing exercises and publishing the results, the art of pranayama started becoming popular.
In India, pranayama is a household word and millions of people do yoga along with pranayama in an integrated fashion. Thousands of studies in recent times have established the benefits of practicing pranayama.
Pranayama, most commonly known as the practice of deep breathing, derives from the Sanskrit words prāṇa, meaning breath or life force, and āyāma, which means extension or expansion.
Yoga masters/gurus describe pranayama as the skill of controlling and regulating the inhalation, exhalation, and retention of breath.
During pranayama, the attention of the mind is focused on the breathing process.
There are many types of pranayama in which inhalation and exhalation are repeated at regular intervals. However, the duration of withholding of breath and the duration of inhalation and exhalation vary from one exercise to another.
Deep breathing also goes by the names of diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing, and paced respiration. When we breathe slowly and deeply, the air coming in through our nose fully fills our lungs, and the lower belly rises.
Whether it’s called belly breathing, abdominal breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, the idea is simple. When we take a deep breath, the diaphragm moves down to allow the lungs to expand with oxygen.
A significantly larger amount of oxygen that is gathered from chest breathing is then available for delivery to the bloodstream. On the exhale, the diaphragm moves close to the lungs and carbon dioxide is expelled.
- There is a pranayama technique called 4-7-8 developed by Harvard-trained physician Andrew Weil.
- This technique is designed to bring the body into a state of deep relaxation. Her breath is held for a period of time which allows our body to replenish its oxygen.
- This breathing exercise gives our internal organs and tissues a much-needed oxygen boost. Sitting or lying in a relaxed position, we inhale to the count of 1, 2, 3, and 4 (for four seconds).
Then we hold our breath while counting from 1 to 7. The held breath (for seven seconds) is the most critical part of this practice. Finally, we exhale air while counting from 1 to 8.
The exercise is repeated for four full breaths.
Dr. Weil has even described it as a “Natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.” This exercise is recommended for deep relaxation, sound sleep, and to handle stress and anxiety. It is said to be as good as practicing mindfulness meditation.
Deep and controlled breathing exercises along with meditation work extremely well for mental stress and anxiety.
In a way, these breathings exercises are part of mindfulness, when our attention is focused on breathing, inhale and exhale of air through nostrils. We are therefore completely aware and mindful of breathing.
In fact, controlled breathing can also be categorized as mindfulness-based meditation
Deep breathing and mindfulness-based meditation can help us raise our vibration level and bring about positive changes in our life. Besides, both these techniques help us to become calm, serene, and peaceful and release any negativity of thoughts and emotions.
As a result, we can witness not only major changes in our behavior and relationships with others but also enhance compassion, empathy, and love for others.
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