Did you ever know that you can use controlled breathing to give your general health and wellbeing a boost? How would you like to reduce stress? Improve your immune system? Boost mental alertness? If you didn’t know that controlled breathing could help with all this then brace yourself – what you are about to read could change your life!
Controlled breathing is so simple that you will wonder why everybody doesn’t do it. All you have to do is take a deep breath, deliberately expanding your belly. Pause for a couple of seconds while you hold the breath then exhale, making the exhalation last for five counts. Repeat this four times.
There are some people who use controlled breathing regularly, for example, those who practise yoga. Yogis refer to this as pranayama, and use it to boost their concentration and vitality. Scientists are only just beginning to examine the benefits of controlled breathing, but studies so far have found that this simple breathing exercise can help with conditions such as depression, PTSD, insomnia, anxiety and ADD.
Benefits of controlled breathing
- Helps to release toxins – the body is supposed to remove up to 70% of toxins through the breathing process and improper breathing interrupts this process.
- Eases tension – the constriction of the muscles when you are stressed, scared or angry can reduce the amount of oxygen that you get when you breathe.
- Eases pain – studies have shown that when you are in pain, breathing into it can help to ease the symptoms. Most people hold their breath when they are experiencing pain, but it can be soothed with the right breathing.
- Improvement to posture – if you practice good breathing techniques regularly you will be able to improve your posture. Poor posture can actually make your breathing worse so by improving one you can improve the other.
- Boosts blood quality – when you practice deep breathing you remove all the carbon dioxide in the blood and boost oxygen levels.
- Better digestion – the boost in oxygen levels means that the digestive organs work much more efficiently.
- Stronger lungs – deeper breathing makes the lungs healthier and therefore stronger, helping to protect you from respiratory problems.
- A boost for heart health – the boost to lung capacity means that more oxygen is brought into the body and therefore the heart is not having to work as hard to deliver oxygen to the organs and tissues.
These are just a few of the ways in which controlled breathing can help your health.
There is a theory that controlled breathing can help to regulate the way that the autonomic nervous system reacts. This system of the body governs the digestion, heart rate and other unconscious processes such as the way the body responds to stress.
By consciously acting to alter the way that you breathe means that you are telling your brain to adjust the way that this section of the nervous system works. The heart rate slows a little, the digestive system calms down and there is a general feeling of calm. The sympathetic system is affected as it regulates the release of stress hormones such as cortisol.
It is believed that many illnesses are made worse or even started with higher than usual stress levels. This includes depression and anxiety. Doctors have found that patients who regularly practice controlled breathing are less likely to have stress symptoms. This is because calm steady breathing sends a message to the brain that everything is fine. If you hold your breath or your breathing is rapid and shallow, then the brain thinks that something is wrong and reacts accordingly.
A small study has been carried out on a small group of people who have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder. They practiced both controlled breathing and yoga. After 12 weeks of this new regime, the participants were found to have dramatically reduced symptoms of depression and that levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid had increased. This is a chemical in the brain that can reduce anxiety and calm the nervous system.
There have also been studies carried out on the way that controlled breathing impacts the immune system. The study had a group using controlled breathing exercises and a group that was just told to read for 20 minutes. It was found that the breathing group had lower levels of several cytokines that are linked to stress and inflammation, which reduce the efficiency of the immune system.
Try a breathing exercise!
Coherent breathing – The aim of this exercise is to regulate the breathing to a rate of just five breaths each minute. This means that you inhale, then exhale while you count steadily to six. Not everyone will find this exercise easy at first so if it does seem to be too difficult try the exhaling to a count of three then increase as it gets easier. You can do this sitting upright or lying down, but put your hands on your belly so that you can feel as you inhale and exhale. When you inhale you should do this to a count of five. For the best benefits from this exercise you should be doing it for between 10 and 20 minutes a day.
Stress relief – The technique for this is called rock and roll breathing. Those who use this technique have found that it has strengthened their core too. To do this exercise, sit up straight, either on a chair or on the floor. Again, put your hands on your belly. When you inhale, lead forward and expand the belly. When you exhale, ensure you ‘squeeze’ out the breath and curl forward but at the same time lean backwards. Make sure you exhale until you have no breath left. This should be done 20 times.
Energising breath – this is a good exercise when you start to feel sluggish as the day goes on. This exercise should be done standing up. Keep your elbows bent with the palms of your hand facing up. Inhale, then exhale quickly, at the same time pushing your palms forward then turning them to face downwards. At the same time say ‘Ha’ out loud. This is an exercise that you should do quickly and it should be done between 10 and 15 times.