It’s as easy as breathing, they say. Well, turns out breathing isn’t that simple! In fact, it can have a profound effect on our whole body, from circulation to stress to pain. Luckily, you have some power here. We’ll be sharing a few easy breathing techniques you can try from the comfort of your own home.
In the rhythm of life, where every heartbeat harmonises with the cadence of breath, exists an intricate dance between our physiological essence and mental well-being. Breath, the silent conductor orchestrating the symphony of our existence, carries profound implications for our mental health. In the hustle of modern life, many of us are unwittingly caught in the rapid tempo of shallow breaths, unaware of the transformative power that lies within the gentle rise and fall of our chests. Yet, beneath the surface of this seemingly automatic act lies a physiological prowess— the ability to modulate heart rate, alleviate anxiety, and foster a profound sense of calm.
In the midst of our bustling lives, the pace of our breath often mirrors the relentless tempo of our surroundings. The unnoticed shift toward rapid, shallow breathing becomes a silent accomplice to the stresses that pervade our daily experiences - you might even have moments where you don't realise you're holding your breath. The connection between breath and mental health is an ancient wisdom rediscovered, with potential to restore balance, ease the beating heart of anxiety, and tap into the reservoir of serenity that resides within each inhalation and exhalation. Alongside wholesome food and mental health-boosting exercises like yoga and Pilates — all of which you'll find on the 8-Week Program — focusing on your breath can make a world of difference.
As we navigate the demands of our lives, the breath remains a constant companion – keeping us alive. Yet, how often do we pause to listen to it, to acknowledge its power to influence not just our physical health, but our mental health too? Have you ever measured how fast or slow your breath is? Breathing rate, often measured in breaths per minute (BPM), is a vital indicator of our physiological state. The pace of our breath can reflect aspects of our physical health, emotional wellbeing, and stress levels. Here are some general classifications for breathing rates:
Rate: Under 10 breaths per minute (BPM)
Characteristics: Slow and deliberate breaths, often associated with relaxation techniques, meditation, and intentional breathwork practices. Slow breathing is linked to activating the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting calmness and reducing stress.
Rate: 10-20 breaths per minute (BPM)
Characteristics: A moderate and regular breathing pattern typical of everyday activities. Normal breathing supports the body's oxygenation needs during routine tasks and at rest. It reflects a balanced state of the autonomic nervous system.
Rate: Over 20 breaths per minute (BPM)
Characteristics: Rapid and shallow breaths often associated with heightened stress, anxiety, or physical exertion. Fast breathing may be a response to the body's perceived need for increased oxygen during stressors or intense activities.
Very Fast Breathing:
Rate: 30 breaths per minute or more (BPM)
Characteristics: Extremely rapid and shallow breaths, often indicative of acute stress, panic, or hyperventilation. Very fast breathing may lead to respiratory alkalosis, a condition where blood pH rises due to excessive elimination of carbon dioxide. Basically, this is a 000 moment.
It's important to note that individual variations in breathing rates exist, and what is considered normal can differ based on factors such as age, fitness level, and overall health. Additionally, context matters—breathing rates can vary during sleep, exercise, or moments of relaxation. Monitoring and understanding one's breathing rate can be a valuable tool in cultivating mindfulness and managing stress. Practices that encourage slower and more intentional breathing, such as diaphragmatic breathing or guided breathwork, are often employed to promote relaxation and overall wellbeing. Regular awareness of breathing patterns allows individuals to modulate their breath consciously, harnessing its potential to influence both physical and mental states.
There are a number of other imperative elements involved in reducing stress and boosting mood, and on the 8-Week Program, we've devised meal plans and exercise regimes that reflect this. With our library of low-impact exercises and our nourishing meals, you can take back control of your mind - take a look at what's on offer:
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We’re going to show you how to slow and control your breathing and thereby influence your mental state – so join us as we make use of the untapped potential within each inhale and exhale. Here are 5 easy exercises you can do anywhere.
Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as abdominal or deep breathing, involves engaging the diaphragm, the primary muscle responsible for respiration. This technique encourages the expansion of the lungs, allowing for a more efficient exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Here’s what it could do for you:
Stress Reduction: Diaphragmatic breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and reducing the impact of the stress response. This can help manage daily stressors and improve overall well-being.
Improved Respiratory Function: Engaging the diaphragm allows for a full expansion of the lungs, enhancing oxygen intake and carbon dioxide elimination. This can improve respiratory efficiency and lung capacity.
Enhanced Oxygenation: By breathing deeply into the lower part of the lungs, diaphragmatic breathing increases the amount of oxygen delivered to the bloodstream. Adequate oxygenation is vital for energy production and overall cellular function.
Lowered Heart Rate and Blood Pressure: The relaxation response triggered by diaphragmatic breathing contributes to a reduction in heart rate and blood pressure. This can have positive effects on cardiovascular health.
Improved Posture and Core Strength: Regular practice of diaphragmatic breathing encourages proper alignment and engagement of the core muscles. This can contribute to improved posture and core strength over time.
Enhanced Digestive Function: The rhythmic movement of the diaphragm during diaphragmatic breathing massages the organs in the abdominal cavity. This can support healthy digestion and alleviate symptoms of indigestion.
Calming the Mind: Diaphragmatic breathing serves as a mindfulness practice, focusing attention on the present moment and cultivating a sense of calm. It can be an effective tool for managing anxiety and promoting mental clarity.
Better Sleep Quality: The relaxation induced by diaphragmatic breathing can contribute to better sleep quality. This technique is often recommended as part of bedtime routines to promote relaxation and prepare the body for sleep.
Mindful Breathing Breaks: Take short breaks during the day to focus on diaphragmatic breathing. This can be particularly helpful during busy or stressful periods.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a simple yet powerful technique that offers a multitude of health benefits. By incorporating this mindful practice into your routine, you can positively impact both physical and mental wellbeing. Try it yourself:
- Find a comfortable seated position or lie down on your back. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose.
- Focus on allowing your abdomen to expand rather than lifting your chest. Feel the breath filling the lower part of your lungs.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth or nose, allowing your abdomen to contract.
- Feel the gentle release of air as you exhale fully.
- Pay attention to the rise and fall of your abdomen with each breath.
- Ensure that your chest remains relatively still, emphasising the movement in the abdomen.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed and avoid tension in the neck and upper chest.
Box breathing, also known as square breathing, is a rhythmic breathing technique that involves inhaling, holding the breath, exhaling, and holding the breath again, each for an equal count. This technique creates a square pattern and is renowned for its ability to induce relaxation and promote a sense of balance. Here’s what it can do for you:
Stress Reduction: Box breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and reducing the physiological response to stress. This can contribute to overall stress reduction and a calmer mind.
Anxiety Management: The rhythmic nature of box breathing helps manage anxiety by providing a structured and controlled breathing pattern. It can be particularly effective during moments of heightened stress or nervousness.
Improved Focus and Concentration: The deliberate and focused nature of box breathing enhances concentration and mental clarity. It can be used as a mindfulness practice to centre the mind and improve cognitive performance.
Enhanced Respiratory Control: Box breathing encourages intentional control over the breath, promoting awareness of inhalation and exhalation. This can improve respiratory efficiency and lung capacity.
Lowered Heart Rate and Blood Pressure: The calming effect of box breathing contributes to a reduction in heart rate and blood pressure. This can have positive implications for cardiovascular health.
Emotional Regulation: Regular practice of box breathing fosters emotional regulation by providing a structured approach to managing reactions and maintaining composure during challenging situations.
Better Sleep Quality: Incorporating box breathing into a bedtime routine can prepare the body for relaxation and improve sleep quality. The calming effect supports a smooth transition into a restful state.
Box Breathing Technique
- Begin by finding a quiet and comfortable space to sit or lie down. Sit with a straight spine to allow for optimal airflow.
- Place your hands on your lap or knees, and close your eyes if it helps you focus. Ensure your shoulders are relaxed.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose for a count of four. Feel your abdomen expand as you fill your lungs with air.
- Hold your breath for a count of four after the inhalation. Maintain a sense of calm and stillness during this phase.
- Exhale slowly and completely through your mouth or nose for a count of four. Empty your lungs fully.
- Hold your breath again for a count of four after the exhalation. Embrace the stillness and prepare for the next inhalation.
- Continue the box breathing cycle by repeating the steps. Inhale for four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for four counts, and hold for four counts.
- As you become more comfortable with the technique, you can gradually increase the duration of each phase. However, always ensure a comfortable and controlled breath.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate Nostril Breathing, also known as Nadi Shodhana or Anulom Vilom, is a yogic breathing technique that involves consciously inhaling and exhaling through alternate nostrils. This practice is believed to balance the flow of energy in the body, calm the nervous system, and enhance overall wellbeing.
- Sit comfortably with a straight spine. You can adopt a traditional seated posture or sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground.
- Use your right thumb to close off your right nostril and your right ring finger to close off your left nostril. The other fingers can rest gently on your forehead or by your side.
- Close off the right nostril with your right thumb.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through the left nostril.
- Focus on filling your lungs with air and creating a smooth, controlled breath.
- Close off the left nostril with your right ring finger.
- Exhale slowly and completely through the right nostril.
- Ensure a controlled and even breath release.
- Keeping the left nostril closed, inhale through the right nostril.
- Focus on a steady and mindful inhalation.
- Close off the right nostril and exhale through the left nostril.
- Maintain a sense of control throughout the exhalation.
- Continue alternating between inhaling and exhaling through each nostril for several rounds. Each inhalation and exhalation should be of equal duration.
- After completing the desired number of rounds, release the hand mudra and take a few natural breaths.
Balancing the Nervous System: Alternate Nostril Breathing is known for its ability to balance the activity of the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous systems. This balance promotes a state of calmness and relaxation.
Stress Reduction: By regulating the breath and calming the nervous system, this technique can be effective in reducing stress and anxiety levels. It serves as a valuable tool for managing everyday stressors.
Improved Focus and Concentration: The practice of Nadi Shodhana enhances concentration and mental clarity. It can be particularly beneficial before tasks that require focus, such as work, study, or creative endeavours.
Enhanced Respiratory Function: This breathing technique encourages full and mindful inhalation and exhalation, promoting improved respiratory function. It enhances lung capacity and oxygenation of the body.
Support for Healthy Blood Pressure: Regular practice of Alternate Nostril Breathing has been associated with positive effects on blood pressure. It may contribute to maintaining healthy blood pressure levels.
Cleansing and Purifying: The name "Nadi Shodhana" translates to "channel cleansing." The practice is believed to purify the energy channels in the body, promoting a sense of balance and vitality.
Emotional Regulation: This technique is considered beneficial for emotional regulation, helping individuals manage mood swings and cultivate a more balanced emotional state.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique, also known as the Relaxing Breath, is a simple yet powerful method that involves a specific pattern of inhalation, breath retention, and exhalation. This technique is designed to induce a sense of calm and relaxation, making it a useful tool for managing stress and promoting a tranquil state of mind.
Anxiety Management: The calming effect of the technique makes it an effective tool for managing anxiety. It can be particularly helpful during anxious moments or before challenging situations.
Improved Sleep Quality: Incorporating 4-7-8 breathing into a bedtime routine can prepare the body and mind for sleep. The technique helps calm the nervous system and induces a sense of tranquillity conducive to restful sleep.
Enhanced Respiratory Efficiency: The controlled and deliberate nature of the breath in 4-7-8 breathing promotes enhanced respiratory efficiency. It encourages full inhalation and complete exhalation, contributing to optimal oxygenation.
Heart Rate Regulation: The breath retention phase in this technique has been associated with heart rate regulation. It can contribute to a more steady and balanced heart rate.
Mindful Presence: Engaging in the rhythmic pattern of 4-7-8 breathing fosters mindful presence, bringing attention to the present moment. It serves as a form of mindfulness meditation.
Try it yourself:
- Find a comfortable seated position with your back straight. You can sit on the floor with your legs crossed or in a chair with your feet flat on the ground.
- Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth. Keep your tongue in this position throughout the entire exercise.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose for a count of four. Focus on filling your lungs with air, allowing your abdomen to expand.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven. Maintain a sense of stillness and relaxation during this breath retention phase.
- Exhale completely and audibly through your mouth for a count of eight. Ensure a slow and controlled release of breath.
- This completes one cycle of the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Repeat the cycle for a total of four breaths during the initial practice. As you become more comfortable, you can gradually increase the number of cycles.
- If you feel lightheaded during the first few attempts, it's advisable to shorten the duration of each phase and gradually progress as you become accustomed to the technique.
- Incorporate 4-7-8 breathing into your daily routine, especially during moments of stress, before bedtime, or as a quick relaxation exercise.
Breath retention, also known as breath holding or breath suspension, is a practice that involves intentionally pausing the breath after inhalation or exhalation. This technique is commonly used in various breathing exercises and pranayama practices. While breath retention should be approached with caution and under guidance, it can offer several benefits when practiced mindfully. Here's an exploration of breath retention and its potential health benefits:
Improved Lung Capacity: Breath retention exercises can enhance lung capacity by encouraging deeper inhalations and exhalations. This can contribute to improved respiratory efficiency.
Stress Reduction: You're probably noticing a pattern here – all of these techniques have the power to reduce stress, and it’s no surprise considering the role breathing plays in anxiety. Controlled breath retention, when practiced mindfully, activates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and reducing stress levels.
Increased Oxygenation: Pausing the breath allows more time for oxygen to be absorbed into the bloodstream during inhalation. This increased oxygenation can have positive effects on overall energy levels.
Enhanced Mental Focus: Breath retention practices often require concentration and mental focus. Regular practice may enhance cognitive abilities and improve mental clarity.
Mind-Body Connection: Breath retention fosters a heightened awareness of the mind-body connection. This increased awareness can contribute to a sense of mindfulness and presence.
Pranayama Benefits: In yogic traditions, certain pranayama techniques incorporate breath retention to harness and direct prana (life force energy). These practices are believed to have holistic benefits for physical and mental wellbeing.
Here's how to do it:
- Inhale deeply and fully through your nose.
- After a complete inhalation, retain the breath for a comfortable duration.
- Exhale slowly and completely through your nose or mouth.
- Exhale completely through your nose or mouth.
- After a complete exhalation, retain the breath for a comfortable duration.
- Inhale slowly and fully through your nose.
- Inhale slowly and fully through your nose.
- Pause briefly before initiating the exhalation.
- Exhale slowly and completely through your nose or mouth.
Breath retention practices may vary in duration and intensity. It's essential to consider individual variations, and beginners should start with shorter durations.
- Avoid Strain: Avoid breath retention if it causes discomfort, strain, or dizziness. It should be a gentle and controlled practice rather than forced.
- Consultation: Individuals with specific health conditions, such as respiratory or cardiovascular issues, should consult with a healthcare professional before attempting breath retention practices.
- Gradual Progression: Start with shorter durations of breath retention and gradually progress as you become more comfortable and experienced.
- Mindfulness: Mindful awareness is crucial during breath retention. Always maintain a sense of ease and avoid pushing yourself beyond your comfort level.
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