by Antonio Paz
When someone says, “take a deep breath,” do you actually take the advice? Perhaps you should start.
In 2006, the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that, “slow breathing resulted in a fall in systolic blood pressure and a significantly higher fall in heart rate.” Stress is physically portrayed by a high heart rate and/or high blood pressure and slow, conscious breathing effectively reduces the tension. By lowering the heart rate and blood pressure, you also lower your stress in a natural and healthy way. Conscious breathing can reduce the severity and frequency of panic attacks or just calm you down so you can sleep easily after a long day.
Breathing techniques have been used for centuries in Eastern cultures to achieve a sense of Zen within yoga and meditation. But to ensure the best results, you should practice the technique you need most on a daily basis, not ONLY when you are already stressed, as these methods can also be preventative.
As with all breathing techniques, be sure the air around you is clean and that your oral and nasal passages are unobstructed. Sitting or laying down helps, but is not required for every technique.
1. The Equal Breathing Exercise – this method aids the focus of the mind, and if done correctly over long periods of time, can help avoid the need for ADHD medication. Inhale through your nose, nonstop for 4 whole seconds. Then, for the same amount of time, exhale through your nose. Repeat until you feel results.
Because the air is going through you nasally and not orally, this adds natural resistance to your breathing. Try extending the 4 seconds to as long as possible; it will increase the positive affects of the exercise. The longer and deeper the breathing, the better. This is also a perfect exercise to master before bedtime because the long, drawn-out breaths tend to quickly slow the heart rate and (if comfortable enough) can make you sleepy. However, it can also be effective in reducing test anxiety, sharpening your focus on what matters.
2. The Relaxing Breath Exercise – this is known as a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. It is ideal for moments of tension and should be done before reacting hastily. Orally, exhale making a “whoosh” sound with your mouth. Next, close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose, counting to 4 (like the previous exercise). Stop your breath once you get to 4, then start counting again to 7, sustaining the hold. Finally, exhale completely through your mouth again, making the “whoosh” sound for a complete 8 count. Do this at least 3-4 times to feel results.
Although this can be effectively done anywhere, it is most effective when laying down with your back straight. Like the first exercise, this exercise will help you sleep if done enough times. However, for the first few times trying the technique, be careful in exceeding 4 times. (If lightheadedness occurs do not be concerned, simply regain a normal breath and it will pass.) This exercise is perfect when something upsets you, such as a bad test grade or the feeling of being overwhelmed, and should be done prior to reacting to help you make a more clear and wise decision.
3. The Alternating Nostril Exercise – this unique exercise directly deals with balancing the two hemispheres of the brain. Similar to the first, this exercise is only nasal breathing. First, hold the right thumb over your right nostril and inhale as deep as possible through your left. At the height of your inhalation, close off your left nostril with the same hand and release the right. Exhale completely through the rest of the breath by way of your right nostril. Repeat, but this time inhale through the right and exhale through the left. The nostril that exhaled last should be the one inhaling when you re-start. Repeat until you feel results.
This method brings a sense of mental calm and balance to the breather. Unlike the first two techniques, this is not recommended before bed because when done correctly, it can be energizing- like a cup of coffee. Perfect this method prior to a heavy study session or any kind of “crunch time” where a lot of information is to be processed. This technique effectively energizes the body and calms the mind for studying.
4. The Deep Breathing Exercise – this exercise may sound simple, but can really take some time to master. However, once mastered, it can be used to help reduce (or stop) panic attacks completely. First, inhale nasally and allow your chest then stomach to expand (this opens your compressed diaphragm). Try to take in air until your lungs are completely filled. Hold the breath for at least 1-3 seconds, if possible. If you cannot hold it, it’s okay. Exhale orally and slowly compress- starting with your abdomen and eventually your chest- until your lungs are empty. Repeat 3-5 more times, each time making it a goal to go slower with each breath. Always inhale through your nostrils and exhale though your mouth.
Panic attacks make this exercise somewhat difficult, but with practice, it can be a great tool if you frequently experience attacks. The opening and closing of the diaphragm is the most important aspect of the exercise because it regulates the depth of your breathing and directly exercises it for future regulation. The more this exercise is utilized the better; doing it only during panic attacks will not be as beneficial as doing it daily.
These exercises should/can all be done within and without stressful situations. But consistent meditation and physical exercise increases their effectiveness significantly. If lightheadedness occurs, please stop the exercise immediately and regain a comfortable breath. In no way are these exercises able to stop or cure asthma. All beginners are highly recommended to experiment with these techniques on their backs and in comfortable laying positions before trying to master them elsewhere.