You can use your breathing to stimulate and wake up the mind and body, calm down in a stressful situation or help you go to sleep at night. Below are five different breathing techniques to help you get through the day.
THE ENERGISING BREATH
Ideal for the morning to get the energy flowing and may also help to relax tight shoulder and neck muscles. Take a big breath in through the nose drawing the air in quickly and strongly and exhale just as strongly through the nose. Leave a pause before the next breath, so you don’t hyperventilate. Do 10 repetitions. You should feel your ribcage move upwards and outwards during the inhale which helps to release the muscles in the chest and back. If you wish to continue, you can do another 10 breaths in the same style but breathing out through the mouth.
THE CHEST OPENER
Stand with your arms at your sides with your palms facing forwards and take a long slow deep breath in. As you do so, tilt your head backwards and take your arms backwards as though you are trying to get the back of your hands to touch together behind you. Hold for a count of one, then slowly exhale and come back to the starting position. Do this 10 times slowly and if you feel lightheaded slow down your breath and movement and pause between breaths. When we are stressed we often hunch our shoulders forward. This gives you a wonderful stretch across the chest and opens up the front of the shoulders. If you’ve been sat at a desk all day or spent lots of time driving this is a great technique for you.
Creating balance in the body. Slowly inhale through the nose for a count of 4 then exhale through the nose for a count of 4. Keep repeating for 2 or 3 minutes. This brings focus to the breath and calms the nervous system. This can help in stressful situations and to calm and still the mind before going to sleep. Keep concentrating on the breath helps the mind to quieten.
THE LONGER EXHALE
When your exhale is even a few counts longer than your inhale, the vagus nerve (running from the neck down through the diaphragm) sends a signal to your brain to turn up your parasympathetic nervous system and turn down your sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic system controls your rest, relax, and digest response. When the parasympathetic system is dominant, your breathing slows, your heart rate drops, your blood pressure lowers as the blood vessels relax, and your body is put into a state of calm. (Source: Dr Robin Berzini¹). Inhale for 2 counts, hold for 1 count, exhale for 4 counts and pause for 1 count between breaths. Do this for 3 to 4 minutes. If the 2 count breath feels too short increase the inhale to 4 counts in, hold 1 count, exhale 6 counts. You can choose whatever count you are most comfortable with but just make sure that the exhale is longer than the inhale.
Believed to help the slow heart rate and reduce blood pressure if practised for 10 minutes per day. For immediate heart rate reduction use before stressful events such as exams, public speaking, presentations or any event you feel nervous or stressed about (Source: J Shakeshaft²). Place one hand on the chest and one hand on your stomach. Inhale deeply and slowly through the nose and allow the stomach to expand outwards to allow the diaphragm maximum space to contract and increase space in the chest cavity, exhale and feel the stomach coming back in. It is important to feel the stomach expanding during inhaling rather than the chest expanding. Aim to achieve 6-10 slow breaths per minute for 10 minutes. To aid the technique, focus the mind on the breathing and not on the event about to happen, this helps to calm and clear the mind.