Breathing is one of those things we often take for granted, I mean, it just happens right? Yet breathing is integral to our survival and is directly linked to our emotions as well as our energy levels.
For example you may have noticed that when you get upset, angry or scared, your breathing becomes more erratic? Often during heightened emotions we unconsciously start taking shorter, shallower and quicker breaths from the chest areas, sometimes even switching to breathe through our mouths. Unfortunately this type of breathing actually stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (the flight or fight response) which only works to enhance the emotions we are experiencing.
When we are at our most relaxed (including sleeping) our breathing is slower, and tends to flow from deep in our bellies. This type of natural deep breathing, most often through the nose, is more effective in engaging the diaphragm, which works to draw the oxygen all the way down into the lower lobes of the lungs. Not only does this support maximum oxygen/carbon dioxide transport, it also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is often referred to as the ‘rest and digest’ system, but really it just works to calm the body and ground the mind.
The interesting thing is that just as your emotional or energetic state can alter the flow of your breath (and simultaneously affect your autonomic nervous system), so can consciously altering the flow of your breath alter your emotions and energetic state!
This means that when you notice yourself becoming overwhelmed with strong emotions, whether it be angry, sad, scared or frustrated, you can actually help counter these emotions by consciously altering the flow of your breath. The most effective form of natural breathing that will help calm and relax you is nasal breathing.
How to practice nasal breathing -
By breathing through your nostrils, the diaphragm is automatically engaged and the oxygen is drawn deeper into the lungs.
- Start by taking a slow, complete breath in through your nose. Pause for a brief moment.
- Slowly exhale out through your mouth, with a soft sigh.
- Practice this a few times to help calm your body and mind, then continue to breathe this way. You can start to exhale through your nose instead of your mouth as you progress, making the breathing more natural.
Learning efficient breathing techniques is also important during exercise as it will help you more effectively transport oxygen throughout your body, ensuring you have all the energy you need to continue on. When practicing resistance training, try to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, keeping the breath as relaxed as possible.
It can be a little more difficult when practicing endurance training (e.g. jogging), because as you become more exerted your body starts to try and suck in as much oxygen as possible. However you can help this process by trying to keep you belly as relaxed as possible, allowing each breath to be as deep as possible.