Breathing is something we often take for granted, but it plays a vital role in our overall physical and mental health. Studies have shown that when we breathe properly, we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, leading to a state of deep relaxation that promotes restoration and recovery, while also improving digestion, blood pressure and much more. Improper breathing, on the other hand, can disrupt the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, leading to physical and emotional disturbances. The good news: learning how to breathe the right way is super easy. By practicing a few simple breathing exercises, you can learn to regulate your breath and experience all of the health benefits that follow.
What Are Breathing Exercises?
Breathing exercises are techniques designed to help regulate and control breathing patterns. They involve intentionally changing the rate, depth, and pattern of breathing to achieve different outcomes, such as reducing stress and anxiety, improving lung function, or promoting relaxation and sleep. These exercises can be practiced anywhere and at any time, making them a convenient tool for managing all kinds of physical and mental health conditions. The best part: anyone can use them! You don’t need any tools or equipment; just your breath. Although, many people do choose to add in some hand gestures, essential oils, poses, visualization techniques or other helpful tools to maximize the benefits and their experience.
Different Types of Breathing Exercises
When it comes to types of breathing exercises, there’s certainly no shortage. From deep breathing and diaphragmatic breathing to the vast array of breathing techniques available, there are literally hundreds of different ways to breathe to get the benefits you’re hoping for. There are breathing exercises that provide a wide range of benefits and other ones that are particularly beneficial for something more specific, such as sleep or anxiety relief.
As such, it’s highly recommended to try as many breathing exercises as you can and to continue learning new techniques as they come. Not only does this give you the opportunity to keep the practice fun and exciting but you may also find that you prefer some exercises and techniques over others and can stick with those moving forward.
However, to get you started on your breathing journey today, let’s take a look at some of the most popular types of breathing exercises:
Pursed Lip Breathing
One simple breathing exercise is called pursed lip breathing, which involves intentionally slowing down your breathing pace.
To practice pursed lip breathing, start by relaxing your neck and shoulders. With your mouth closed, inhale slowly through your nose for two counts. Then, purse your lips as though you were going to whistle and exhale slowly by blowing air through your pursed lips for a count of four.
Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing, is a breathing technique that is designed to help people learn how to breathe properly using their diaphragm. Studies have found that this type of breathing is particularly beneficial for people with breathing difficulties due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart problems, or cancer. It can also alleviate stress and relieve symptoms associated with eating disorders, constipation, high blood pressure, migraines, and other health conditions. Needless to say, it’s a good one to perfect!
To practice diaphragmatic breathing, first lie on your back with your head on a pillow and knees slightly bent. You may place a pillow under your knees for support. Then, place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. Slowly inhale through your nose, feeling your stomach rise and press into your hand. Keep your other hand as still as possible. Then, exhale using pursed lips while tightening your abdominal muscles and emptying your diaphragm, ensuring that your upper hand remains completely still.
Over time, this will train you to breathe through your belly (the proper way) instead of from your chest.
The 4-7-8 technique is a breathing exercise that is highly beneficial for inducing relaxation. It involves inhaling for four counts, holding the breath for seven counts, and exhaling for eight counts.
If you’re a yogi, you likely already know about this powerful breathing technique. Lion’s Breath is a popular yoga breathing exercise that can help relieve chest and facial tension, and it’s really easy to do!
Simply inhale deeply through your nose and open your eyes wide. Exhale through your mouth while sticking out your tongue and contracting the muscles at the front of your throat. Bring the tip of your tongue down towards your chin and make a long “haaa” sound while exhaling to release any tension. While doing this breath, you can gaze at the space between your eyebrows or the tip of your nose and repeat this breath 2 to 3 times.
Benefits of Using Breathing Exercises
You might be curious as to why something as simple as breathing can have such a profound effect. The reason is that slow, deep breathing can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is also known as the “rest and digest” system. This system’s role is to conserve energy for bodily functions such as digestion and urination, amongst many other things. Additionally, deep breathing can increase oxygen flow to your brain and other organs, providing them with much-needed nourishment and many benefits.
Let’s take a look at some of the top health advantages associated with breathing exercises.
Natural Stress and Anxiety Relief
Breathing exercises activate the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) that automatically relaxes your body, particularly after periods of stress or danger. Deep breathing exercises also stimulate the vagus nerve, which is responsible for regulating important bodily functions such as digestion, mood, and heart rate, all of which be negatively affected with stress and anxiety. As such, you can use breathing exercises to better manage your daily stress, and as an effective tool when you’re in a highly stressful environment or situation.
Improve Lung Health and Related Conditions
Breathing exercises, much like aerobic exercise, can improve your lung function and strengthen the respiratory muscles. When practiced regularly, breathing exercises can help flush out stale air, increase oxygen levels and get the diaphragm functioning properly. This is especially beneficial for people suffering from lung-related health conditions, such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. This is because when your lungs are healthy, your diaphragm takes on about 80 percent of the work, filling your lungs with oxygen and other gases while eliminating waste gases. On the other hand, when lung health is compromised, the lungs lose their elasticity, making it difficult to fully expel air which can lead to air and waste gas becoming trapped in the lungs.
Improve Heart Health and Related Conditions
It isn’t just your brain and lungs that get a boost from breathing; your heart health does too! Taking deep breaths not only helps oxygenate your muscles but can also give your heart a healthy workout. Breathing exercises have been shown to boost circulation, reduce blood pressure, enhance mental clarity, improve lung function, and even increase bone density.
Getting enough high-quality sleep is essential for maintaining good physical and mental health, but it can be a challenge for many individuals. In fact, studies reported that more than one-third of people in the United States sleep less than the recommended seven hours per night, and almost half of them have difficulty falling or staying asleep. The good news: breathing exercises can help.
Including breathing exercises in your daily routine can be a simple and effective way to manage stress, relax, and prepare for a good night’s sleep. Studies have also found that breathing exercises can help you wind down before bedtime, leading to faster and more restful sleep. It’s also believed that breathing exercises can increase the production of melatonin, a vital sleep hormone. Put all of this together and you’re one breath away from catching some z’s.
Some additional benefits you can receive from practicing breathing exercises regularly are:
- Enhance cognitive functions
- Detox your body
- Improve your digestive system
- Added glow to your skin
Tips for Using Breathing Exercises
- Try a variety of breathing exercises to see which ones you like best
- Use breathing exercises for your specific goals, such as anxiety relief or heart health
- Practice your breathing techniques regularly
- Find a quiet place to use your breathing exercises to maximize the experience
- Add a few drops of essential oil into a diffuser in the space you’re breathing for added aromatherapy benefits
- Follow a guided meditation to guide you through the process
- Begin with just 5 minutes a day, and increase your time as the exercises get easier and more comfortable.
- Practice multiple times a day.
- Schedule set times.
- Practice conscious breathing as many times as you can throughout the day.
Your breath is a powerful tool that can be used to improve your physical and mental health and breathing exercises make it easy to harness the power of the breath to get all of the benefits you desire. Remember to practice regularly and when times get tough, just keep breathing, just keep breathing.