WEEK 1: The Science Behind Breath
Deep, focused breathing is an easy, proven way to relax the body and mind. However, it isn’t just about relaxing; scientific research shows that focused, intentional breathing is proven to affect the brain, digestion, heart, and immune system. This is because the body is actually designed to physiologically react to stress as a mechanism to keep us safe. Stress speeds the heart rate, diverts blood away from other organs to the muscles, and converts stored energy into strength as part of the “fight” response. The response occurs in the part of the brain responsible for generating CRH (corticotrophin-releasing hormone), which, if left in our system too long, can cause the adrenal gland to release cortisol- the stress hormone responsible for storing fat. Intentional breathing exercises can train the way your body reacts to stressful situations by lessening the production of those stress hormones. Deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic system, which is responsible for calming us down, while rapid breathing is controlled by the sympathetic system, or the “fight or flight” response. Follow the links provided for additional information on the science behind focused breathing and make sure to check back next week for tips on how to incorporate breathing techniques into your daily routine.
WEEK 2: Techniques
“Equal Breathing” starts by inhaling and exhaling for equals amounts of time; for example, breathe in for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four through your nose. This technique can be used anywhere but is especially effective before bed.
“Abdominal Breathing” begins with one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Inhale deeply through the nose ensuring that the diaphragm, rather than the chest, inflates. Breathing 6-10 deep breaths per minute for 10 minutes each day will result in immediate reduction of heart rate and blood pressure. This technique works best when used before any stressful event, however, keep in mind that those who operate at increased stress levels regularly may be surprised how difficult it can be. Like many life changes, keep at it and you will notice long term results!
“Alternate Nostril Breathing” calms and balances by uniting both the left and right sides of the brain. Start in a comfortable position, hold the left thumb over left nostril and inhale deeply though the right nostril. Close off the right with your ring finger and exhale through the left nostril. Continue the pattern inhaling through the left nostril and exhaling through the right. Use this method when you need a boost of energy or when you need to focus.
“Progressive Relaxation” relieves tension by tensing and relaxing each muscle group for two to three second each. Start with feet and toes then move up through knees, thighs, rear, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw, and eyes while maintaining deep, slow breaths. Breathe in through the nose and hold for a count of 5 then breathe out through the nose on release. This technique is effective anywhere from work, to home, and even while driving.
WEEK 3: Health Benefits
The breath is the first physiological response to be affected by trauma or stress. However, intentional, purposeful breathing can affect our health in many ways. Health breathing affects the immune system by increasing the body’s energy to put towards the constant process of self-healing and detoxifying. It also regulates the nervous system to keep energy focused on healthy immune system function and accelerates regeneration of tissue by allowing the system to heal rather than fight off invaders. Healthy breathing improves the circulatory system by improving circulation and increasing flow of oxygen to organs. Proper diaphragmatic action aids the digestive system by acting as a pump to massage the internal organs, significantly aiding in their function. Further, conscious breathing improves power of mental concentration and observation which leads to higher productivity, learning capacity, and decision making.
WEEK 4: Practical Applications
We have explored how focused breathing works, different relaxation techniques, and what the health benefits are, now we will highlights everyday activities that can be improved by focusing on the way you breathe! For those of you who like to jog, training your lungs to breathe more deeply can actually improve your muscle performance to help you run longer and with less effort. The more fully you breathe, meaning breathing with your diaphragm rather than your chest, the more oxygen gets routed to your muscles. Sleep or lack thereof, is another everyday activity that can be improved simply by utilizing one simple breathing technique. Many people experience occasional to frequent troubles falling asleep; this can be caused by stimulants like coffee or energy drinks, or external lights from televisions or phones which interfere with our natural sleep cycles. The “4-7-8” breathing technique is a simple and quick way to naturally ease the body into a calm state. Breathe in for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and then exhale completely for a count of eight. Repeat the cycle until you feel more relaxed or fall asleep. Additionally, breathing techniques can even provide natural pain relief. Constantly living in a state of heightened stress levels can lead to increased body pain as muscles tense and stress hormones increase. Mindful breathing techniques work to relax your muscles and rid your body of stress chemicals which will lead to long-term changes in your body and natural pain relief over time.