Have You Done Your Breathing Exercises Today?
When you’ve felt overwhelmed or stressed, has anyone ever told you to take a deep breath? This wise piece of age-old advice really works. If you try taking a deep breath right now, you’ll notice that you feel immediately more relaxed. Just as a good diet, exercise, water intake, and sleep are important to health, stress management is also an important component in creating a healthier and happier you. Breathing is one of the simplest and most effective stress management tools you can employ. Adding breathing exercises to your daily routine can be a great ongoing stress management tool.
Now, let’s create that stress management routine. First, try to carve out time each day to do your breathing exercises. Doing your exercises at about the same time of day or after a specific daily activity is also a good idea because you can then incorporate it as part of your normal day to day activities. To further entrench this habit, try to do your exercises in the same room or spot where you are comfortable. Maybe this is your bed, office, lounging chair, or living room. Budget about 10 minutes. Again, this isn’t a huge investment in time. The important goal is to weave breathing exercises into your daily routine so that you are working to manage life’s stresses on a regular basis.
A simple starting point is deep breathing. Deep breathing isn’t what we normally do. We typically take short and shallow breaths. With deep breathing, we’ll breathe with our bellies. To start, sit or lie with your head supported. Breathe in through your nose and make sure to expand your belly as you inhale. You should see your belly expand as you take a substantial deep breath in. As soon as you feel you’ve expanded your belly as much as possible while inhaling, stop. Then, slowly exhale through your nose. You can place your hands on your belly and your chest (one on each). As you breathe, notice your belly rise and fall. Your belly should be rising significantly more than your chest. Repeat this cycle about 5 times. You’ll notice that you may feel less anxious.
You can refine your breathing practice over time by moving on to “breath focus.” Breath focus involves using a picture in your mind or even a word or phrase that you find relaxing. Closing your eyes, you breathe deeply and think about this image, word, or phrase. As you breathe in, you’ll want to envision taking in this positive image, word, or phrase. As you breathe out, you’ll want to envision stress and negative thoughts leaving. In this exercise, you are using breathe to visualize something positive coming into your being and something negative leaving your being. Breathe allows us to organize our thoughts so that we specify what we want more of and invite it in. At the same time we visualize what we want to remove as a burden us and push it out of our being. This technique can be effective because it forces us to think about our stressors, name them, and consciously think about having them leave us…even if just temporarily.
As you continue to invest in your breathing practice, you may want to expand your breathing capability. Try to inhale for 5 seconds, hold, and exhale for 5 seconds. You’ll have to count out your inhale and exhale time. Counting helps to focus your mind. This exercise helps you take deeper and deeper breaths. Initially, you may not be able to reach the 5 second mark. Work up to it over time. These deeper breaths will only improve your practice. Overtime, try to work up to 10 seconds.
As you continue to improve your daily practice, you may want to use breath to focus on relieving tension and stress in specific body parts. As you breathe in and out, you can start with your feet and work your way up to your chest by naming body parts with each inhale and exhale cycle. As you do this exercise, think about breathing life into that body part and stress out of that body part. So, starting with your feet; tense them up with the inhale and then relax them with the exhale. Work your way up to your calves, thighs, hips, stomach, chest, neck, face, etc. With this technique, you’ll be able to notice where you are holding your stress in your body. Many people hold stress in their upper back and even facial muscles. As you exhale, really try to relax the muscles in focus. You may notice that you actually hold them in a tense position through the course of the day. Don’t forget to work your way up to the muscles in your face, around your eyes, in your neck, etc.
You can add a technique called Lion’s Breath over time. Lion’s breath is where you vocalize a loud “ahhhh” sound as you exhale. Vocalization can help release tension as we’re often fairly reserved, self-conscious, and not fully relaxed.
Breathing is a stress management technique that should be part of your “healthy you” routine. Stress can sap our energy, erode our capacity to deal with life’s challenges, and increase our general anxiety. Everyday breathing exercises should be just as important as diet, exercise, and sleep in managing your health!