Life can be very complicated and it’s important to know how to relax quickly and effectively. Did you know that one very simple way to relax is by simply focussing on your breath?
For the most part of our day, breathing is automatic – this means that we don’t have to think about doing it. However, if we wanted to, we can override this by singing, speech or other vocal training.
We can also hold our breath in or out to a certain degree. The longest a person has been recorded to hold their breath underwater is just over 24 minutes. This World record was set by Spanish free-diver, Aleix Segura in 2016.
If you practise yoga, you may also already be familiar with breathwork. Yoga teaches specific breathing techniques, known as pranayama, which helps us to literally “extend the vital life force”. These exercises can be used at any time during the day to help us not only transform your breath, but to also transform your state of mind.
WHY IS BREATHING IMPORTANT?
By being able to tap into something as easy as your breath, you are able to open up a whole new world of rest and relaxation. This is because you can tap into stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system – the opposite of the fight or flight reaction that occurs when your body is triggered by stress.
As you start to breathe deeper, some very important things can happen in your body. Blood flow increases and you can get more oxygen into your body. This can helps to
- Increase energy levels
- Reduce inflammation and help to detox your body
- Release endorphins which are a natural painkiller.
More importantly, by stopping to breathe when you are stressed, you can
- Stop yourself from saying something that you might regret to a loved one or friend
- Compose yourself before sending a regretful email to your boss or colleague
- Experience greater clarity and focus and concentrate better
- And also benefit from more restful sleep.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE BREATHE?
Did you ever stop to think that your breath is the first and last thing that you will do as a human being?
Although this is an unconscious, involuntary action of the body, we can tap into this primal body function to help us regulate our anxiety, stress and emotional state.
Breathing is regulated through a respiratory control center, located in our brainstem – in the pons and medulla oblongata. The purpose of breathing is to facilitate the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our blood, which occurs in our lungs.
The rate at which we breathe is regulated by signals from chemoreceptors located in our body, which monitors the partial pressures of carbon dioxide and oxygen in our blood and cerebrospinal fluid.
What does this mean?
For example – when you exercise, your body will produce more carbon dioxide – the increase is picked up by the chemoreceptors and a sends a signal to the respiratory centre that we need to also increase oxygen levels.
The brain then sends a signal down the spine to the muscles which are involved in breathing to work more so that we can get enough oxygen to match the carbon dioxide build up in the body.
It is very important that we have these levels regulated because too much carbon dioxide can be fatal for the body.
HOW TO RELAX BY USING YOUR BREATH
One very famous breathing exercise, introduced by Dr Andrew Weil is the known as the 4-7-8 breathing technique, otherwise known as the Relaxing Breath.
It’s is based on ancient yogic techniques and can be done anywhere, anytime.
You can start this exercise by sitting upright, with your back straight or lying down. Touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth, just behind your top teeth. You will keep it there the entire time and breath out around your tongue.
To do the Relaxing Breath – prepare by breathing out through your mouth completely, making a “whoosh” sound, then
- Close your mouth and breathe in through your nose for a count of four
- Hold your breath for a count of seven
- Exhale completely through your mouth again, making a “whoosh” sound, for a count of eight. This is one breath
- Repeat this this cycle four times.
HOW MANY TIMES CAN I DO THIS A DAY?
One common question is how many times do I have to do this? The simple answer is, as many and you need. Perhaps start with twice a day – at lunch and before bed, or when you’re commuting in/out of work.
You don’t have to do it four times only – you can choose to do more or less. For example, if you are doing this before bed, you can extend it 8 cycles or more.
If you have not done this before, remember, we are consciously altering the ratio of carbon dioxide and oxygen in your body and you may feel lightheaded and faint.
If this is the case, then just reduce all components by half. Inhale for a count of 2, hold for a count of 3.5 and exhale for a count of 4. By practicing, you can slowly build up to 4-7-8.
Article by Melanie Yeoh