The Power of Breathing

Breathing is fundamental to our existence. On average, we take 20,000 breaths a day, yet we often don’t give it the attention it deserves. However, breathing exercises have been found to reduce anxiety, improve sleep, boost energy levels, and enhance focus. Harnessing the power of your breath can have profound effects on your overall well-being.

Understanding Breathwork

Dr. Paras Patel, chief scientific officer at wellbeing app The Zensory, explains that breathing is the process of taking in oxygen, which is carried by red blood cells to produce energy in the body, and removing carbon dioxide, a waste product. Breathing also prepares the body for stressful situations and aids in rest and digestion. Our primal reaction to stress is a short sharp inhalation, while a long outwards exhalation relaxes us by triggering the body’s rest and digestion system.

Improving Your Breathing

Shut Your Mouth

Many of us develop a dysfunctional breathing pattern, characterized by quick and mouth breathing, due to the stresses and traumas we encounter. Consciously bringing your breath back to a slow rhythm through the nose and into the belly can improve your health and wellbeing. Nasal breathing opens the airways, increases blood flow, promotes diaphragm use, and enhances oxygen delivery. By shutting your mouth and breathing through your nose, stress and inflammation can reduce while energy levels rise.

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Hum for Zen

Humming is a great way to open the airways and increase oxygen delivery. To breathe lower and slower, involve the diaphragm by placing your hands around your lower ribcage. Feel the lower ribs and belly gently push outward as you inhale, and let them fall as you exhale. Keeping your chest and shoulders relaxed while humming can also improve core strength, stability, and overall posture.

Listen Up

Make a note of how you breathe in different situations and pay attention to the length, depth, and movement of your breath. By observing how your breath feels in calm situations, you can mimic that during times of stress. This conscious focus on your breath can trick the nervous system into releasing stress and promoting relaxation.

Change Your Sleep Set-Up

Proper breathing while sleeping is vital for quality rest. If you experience interrupted breathing during sleep, known as sleep apnea, it is essential to consult your doctor. Allergies can also cause blocked airways, affecting sleep. To improve your breathing while sleeping, keep your bedroom clean, free of clutter and dust, regularly wash your bedding, and use anti-allergy pillows.

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Get Appy

There are many apps available to assist with breathing exercises. iBreathe offers guided breathwork sessions and allows you to design personalized exercises. Breathwrk provides breathing exercises for various areas of life, including sleep, relaxation, and increased energy. Additionally, smartwatches, like the Apple Watch, offer features like real-time feedback on breathing and heart rate. However, remember not to spend too much time staring at screens and to take breaks for proper breath and eye care.

Four Breathing Exercises to Try

Expert breath coach Nevsah Fidan Karamehmet recommends the following breathing techniques for different situations:

To Ease Panic: 4-7-8 Breathing

Find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. Inhale deeply through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then exhale slowly for eight seconds. Repeat this pattern for several minutes to reduce stress and anxiety levels.

To Focus the Mind: Coherent Breathing

Breathe in for a count of four and breathe out for a count of four. Ensure that your breath is continuous, with no pauses between inhales and exhales. Practice this technique for at least five minutes to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, promoting focus and relaxation.

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To Boost Energy: Kapalbhati Breathing

Find a comfortable position and breathe slowly and deeply, filling your lungs with oxygen while feeling your abdomen expand. Exhale forcefully, using your diaphragm to push the air out. Repeat this rapid breathing technique for about a minute to increase energy levels.

To Bring on Sleep: Chandra Bhedana Breathing

Gently push your finger on your right nostril to block it and breathe in through your left nostril. When your lungs are full, block both nostrils and hold your breath before unblocking the right nostril and gently exhaling. Repeat this alternating nostril technique until you begin to feel sleepy, helping to relax the mind and induce sleep.