From the moment we take that first breath, we keep breathing until we stop for good.
But because breathing happens automatically, most of us rarely think about it, until we come down with a respiratory ailment or find ourselves puffing with exertion.
Practice Breathing for Stress Relief
Yet focused and deliberate attention to proper breathing is an ancient stress-relieving, health promoting technique. What’s more, it’s free, and doesn’t require equipment or professional help.
Breathing techniques that have formed an important aspect of eastern spiritual practices for centuries have been incorporated into modern mindfulness practices, as well as into programs for managing anger, stress, panic disorder, chronic anxiety, and pain. Athletes, singers, and wind instrumentalists also benefit from breath-training programs.
How to Breathe Deeply
Many people breathe shallowly, using only the upper portion of their lungs.
Learning to breathe deeply from the abdomen, strengthening the diaphragm, the muscular wall that separates the chest and abdominal cavities, maintains the proper oxygen-carbon dioxide ratio in the blood. It will also help prevent hyperventilation (sometimes called “ovebreathing”), a main cause of anxiety attacks.
- Here’s a good primer on learning to breathe from the diaphragm (sometimes also called “belly-breathing”).
- Here’s another on the benefits of learning to breathe in through your nose. If you’ve been a chest-and/or-mouth-breather for awhile, it might take time to master these breathing techniques. Keep practicing a few minutes each day.
Aside from regular breathing practice, I find a minute of mindful breathing helps restore a balanced perspective, whenever I feel a surge of anger, fear, or anxiety. What a great technique! My breath is always at the ready, costs nothing, and hey! If I’m in a crowd, nobody has to know I’m using it. After all, everybody’s breathing.
If you search the Web, you’ll find many articles, research reports, and how-to videos on breathing and specific breathing techniques to improve physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Try these three:
- The Breathing Space (Jon Kabat Zinn)
- Instructions on the Breath (Jon Kabat Zinn)
- Three Breathing Exercises (Dr. Andrew Weil)
You may also discover local groups and programs that focus on breathing and other techniques to help people manage stress.