Breathing is one of the most important ways that we communicate with our bodies. Through our breathing, we tell our bodies how to react to the various forms of stimulation that we face throughout the day. By breathing, we are regulating the flow of oxygen throughout the body, which stimulates our heart and brain and allows us to think and move better. If our brain does not receive enough oxygen, we may experience stress, or a frantic sense of being overwhelmed. This stress will make it more difficult to focus, both in the short and long term.
However, oxygen isn’t the only important aspect of proper breathing. Our body also relies on its ability to hold in carbon dioxide (C02). Generally we think of CO2 as a waste product that our breath pushed out because we don’t need it. This is not entirely true. Instead, our bodies require a balance of oxygen and carbon-dioxide. Losing too much CO2 can cause the blood pH level to fluctuate and limit the amount of oxygen that our blood releases into our cells.
Studies show that proper breathing techniques can help to trigger relaxation even through difficult ordeals. As a form of stress management, proper breathing can help to facilitate problem-solving, clear thinking, and decreased anger responses allowing for better interpersonal relationships.
Where Does Improper Breathing Come from?
Improper breathing most likely comes from spending long days sitting in place. This is because sitting forces our bodies and lungs into unnatural postures that restrict our breathing. While sitting, the body is less able to stretch and flex, and the stomach area, where we should be locating our breathing is relatively restricted. Similar restrictions happen when we wear clothing that is too tight or that restricts our movement throughout the stomach area, or when we are holding our body too rigidly to breathe freely.
Improper breathing develops from two improper postures.
1. Mouth Breathing
Mouth breathing is detrimental to our health, since it decreases the amount of oxygen we can absorb with each breath. This is because the tissues of our mouths absorb less oxygen than the tissues of our nose. This leads us to overcompensate and breathe too much, so that we might over breathe and, in some cases, hyperventilate.
2. Breathing through the Chest
When we breathe through the chest, we are straining and restricting our ability to breathe. Chest breathing doesn’t allow us to inflate the lower part of our lungs fully, and it strains the muscles surrounding the neck and shoulders which can exacerbate feelings of stress.
What Does Proper Breathing Look Like?
Proper breathing is drawn in and out through the nose. In fact, just slowing down and drawing through your nose for a few breaths right now could help to clear your mind.
Additionally breathing should happen in the lower part of the lungs so that the part of the body that expands with the breath should be the stomach. If might be helpful to stand up and try breathing deeper down in the stomach to get a feel for this. This will allow you to decrease tension rather than building it.
Breathing Techniques to Manage Stress
Breathing techniques are geared toward training the body to relax and calm down. One of the most important things to remember when working to manage your stress is that your exhalation triggers a relaxation response. If you find that you need to calm down, breathe through your nose. Then try breathing out for a longer count than you breath in. If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, the first step is to prioritize your exhale.
1. Box Breathing
Box Breathing can be a great technique for those who are trying to focus, train physically, or are quitting smoking and missing that relaxation breath. Practicing box breathing over time can help your unconscious breathing to become steadier.
Begin by breathing through your nose and expanding your breath through your belly. Inhale for a five second count, then hold the breath in for another five seconds. Exhale for a five second count, and then wait for another five seconds before your next inhale.
Continue box breathing for one to three minutes throughout the day when you feel stress. This is a deliberate way to calm the nerves before a meeting, when things go wrong, or when you’re feeling nervous or anxious about something.
2. 365 Breathing
365 breathing is a therapy technique that’s practiced daily to manage ongoing or chronic stress, anxiety, phobias, or even physical pain. Most therapists recommend that participants spend five minutes a day practicing this technique. This five minutes can also be right before bed for the added benefit of decreasing the likelihood of insomnia and promoting better sleep. Then, when you are feeling stressed throughout the day, you can practice this breathing as a reminder to calm down your nervous response, relax, and focus.
While doing your 365 breathing, you should breathe at a constant rhythm of six cycles per minute. To break it down, this means spending five seconds inhaling and five seconds exhaling, or to get an extra relaxation boost, inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for six. The key, in this case, is consistency and regularity, which will quiet the heart rate and focus the mind.
3. 4-7-8 Breathing
4-7-8 breathing is a useful tool for mitigating extreme cases, such as moments of intense stress or even anger. This method forces you to exhale for twice the time that you inhale, thus causing relaxation and a peaceful space to think.
Begin by breathing for a count of four seconds. Then, hold your breath for seven seconds. Finally exhale for all eight seconds. Begin again on the inhale. Repeat this process for one to three minutes, or until you start to feel focused and calm.
By mastering our breathing, we are able to tell our body what we need it to do. Stress is often accompanied by rapid, uneven breathing which triggers our basic survival mode. This survival instinct causes the mind to race and forces us to lose our deep focus. Rather than stress, we need to be able to relax, focus, and think things through. Purposeful breathing in the long run can help to make us less sensitive and reactive to stressful situations, so that our responses are thoughtful and we can remain focused on our tasks.