Take a deep breath. Feel better? It’s supposed to.
Taking a deep breath and doing it correctly is known to be good for your physical and emotional health no matter what situation you’re in. When experiencing stress, anxiety and trauma, breathing can be short and shallow with most of the air directed toward the chest. A growing number of studies are showing that mindful, controlled nose breathing can improve the quality of your life with healthy results. What happens to the brain in the short few seconds oxygen is traveling in through the nose is remarkable!
“These changes in brain activity also actually lead to cognitive changes over the course of the breathing cycle as well,” said Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine assistant professor Christina Zelano, who conducted a breathing study. In her research, Zelano found that brain activity in the amygdala (the emotion part of the brain) increased significantly during a nose inhale, but hardly changed at all with a mouth inhale. “If you’re in a dangerous environment with fearful stimuli, our data indicate that you can respond more quickly if you are inhaling through your nose.”
Disease Prevention with Correct Breathing
Stress and anxiety can put a lot of wear and tear on your internal organs. Scientists say slow, steady breathing activates the calming part of the nervous system that can reduce the heart rate and relieve stress and anxiety.
Breathing correctly can also affect your cardiovascular health. Research shows that deep breathing can help the bottom of the lungs distribute oxygen efficiently to the upper lungs. Higher oxygen levels mean a decrease in blood pressure, putting less stress on the heart.
Practice Makes Perfect
So, how can you be mindful with your breathing during a critical moment? Being prepared ahead of time by practicing will help. There are many breathing techniques that can become a part of your everyday life. Try it!
- Equal Breathing
Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds then exhale through the mouth for four seconds. This technique works best if you’re trying to fall asleep.
- Abdominal Breathing
Put one hand on your chest and the other hand on your abdomen. Take a deep nose breath directing the air to your belly and not the chest. You should feel your belly rise with the inhale. Exhale through the mouth. Actively practice this one several times a day for six to eight weeks. This works best to help calm the nerves before an exam or stressful event.
- Box Breathing
Inhale through your nose for four seconds. Hold your breath for the count of four. Exhale with the same count of four. Then hold your breath again for four seconds. This technique can heighten performance and concentration.
- Lion’s Breath
Place your hands on your knees, straighten your arms and extend your fingers. Inhale through your nose. Make a forceful exhale making a “ha” sound. As you exhale, open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue as far as possible. This explosive exercise is said to relieve negative energy and can help reduce stress and anger.
Yoga or meditation classes can help you learn different breathing techniques; if you have uncontrolled anxiety, however, you may want to contact a professional licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Boards of Behavioral Sciences and Psychology. You can verify a mental health care provider’s license by using the search tool at https://search.dca.ca.gov.