Today I want to share a very effective and simple breathing exercise for effortlessly bringing more balance and relaxation into your life. We go through varying levels of tension and relaxation throughout our life. Tension manifests in our body through the function of our autonomous nervous system, more precisely the sympathetic nervous system. Relaxation on the other hand manifests through its counterpart, the parasympathetic nervous system. “Stress” is actually a very natural function and an asset, if it is balanced with sufficient periods of rest and digest activity. It is then we speak of a balance of the autonomous nervous system. This can be measured by the variable of heart rate variability.
When our sympathetic nervous system is chronically over-stimulated then we have a problem on our hands. Now via the breath we can effectively trigger the parasympathetic nervous system response. We can directly affect our physical and mental/emotional state. How regulating our breath affects our body is scientifically researched. It’s all around our culture and has become a great trend – be it with yoga, which also incorporates breathing patterns, or modern “breath meditations”. All these things are great and they work – provided that you consistently do them. The technique I share here is extremely simple and easy to do so there really can be no excuses. It can be done in a matter of a few minutes, wherever you are. It’s simple and very effective for relaxing your body. It happens by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest and digest” response, via stimulating the vagus nerve. It also allows you to take in more oxygen, which you might have been deprived off through shallow breathing or high stress levels.
Begin by taking in a deep breath. As you do this notice where your breath is flowing. Are you breathing into your chest? Are your shoulders lifting? Or are you breathing more into the lower parts of your lungs, your belly, lower chest and on the lower back? Many of us have developed a habit of shallow breathing. Children know how to breathe naturally and deeply into their belly. Shallow breathing is related to states of tension and danger. It’s fine when we breathe in this way when there actually is immediate danger or a challenging situation – but if we stay in a stressful state and maintain shallow breathing for too long then problems are brewing.
Now in the video I drew a glass being filled with water. The water fills the glass from the bottom up. When we breathe like this then we can get much more air into our lungs than if we superficially try to press air into our chest. We can allow our diaphragm to gently expand and our lung to fill from the bottom up. You can feel the difference. This way we get much more air into our lung and take in more oxygen. In addition deep belly breathing stimulates our vagus nerve and we can use it to consciously relax.
Breathing through the nose is quite important as the air gets cleaner and breathing out is slower so you can absorb more oxygen than via mouth-breathing. If you habitually breathe through your mouth you should do some reading on this and consider switching to nose-breathing.
- Now put one hand on your belly and place your feet flat on the floor so you have a good stance. Let your head rise and sit comfortably relaxed and upright. Now imagine that you are filling your lungs, like a glass of water, from the bottom up with air. Remember to breathe through your nose. Fill your lower belly, down into your groin area, to the back of your lungs and up to the abdomen. Fill your lungs from the bottom up all the way to the chest. Don’t push it into your upper chest so that your shoulders rise – focus your breathing on the lower parts of your lungs and let it rise from the bottom up. Do this for 5 seconds on the in-breath, filling your lungs gently and expanding them. Don’t press the air in but do make a little effort to breathe deeply and fill your lungs. Also try to breathe into the back (explore where you can actually put air into!)
- Hold the breath gently (don’t press) for 2 seconds
- Breathe out for 5 seconds through your nose by relaxing. Don’t push the air out but let your lungs “collapse”. Don’t try to push all the air out, just breathe out gently.
- Now again hold for 2 seconds (your lungs now being somewhat empty).
- Then again breathe in for 5 seconds.
Repeat this process for 6 deep breaths in total.
This is a very strong and effective practice. Don’t underestimate it because it’s so simple. It quickly refreshes and restores your body and mind to a higher state of functioning. It helps dissolve excess stress and to find your center. This is something you can do anywhere. You can do it at home, on the subway or during work. Once you get the hang of it you can even do it while walking. I’ve done another video on progressive muscle relaxation which is not really suitable to be done in public. This breathing exercise is completely discreet. You can do it anywhere and nobody will notice it – except you who is going to feel its positive effect! I practice conscious breathing for a few minutes every day. It has a great effect on the body and mind and helps a lot with managing stress and restoring balance. In addition you will develop more awareness for your breathing patterns and thus gain control over your habitual patterns of tension.
Commit to try it a few times in the coming days (do it once a day when you are commuting for example). This way you’ll store it to memory and you’ll remember it when you need it. You’ll know first-hand of its positive effect.