- Heidi Blackie
Reset Your Mind, Mood and Body with These 3 Breathing Exercises
Have you ever thought about how you breathe? Being aware of how we breathe, and intentional about where we direct it in our body can have a profound impact on our mind, mood and body.
In my years of treating patients, I found that most people breathe into the upper chest, shoulders and neck. Given that most people breathe 13-15 times every minute, 780-900 times every hour and so on, the muscles of the neck and shoulders end up tensing tens of thousands of times each day. And, this type of breath only fills the upper lungs. So, when the majority of my clients and patients told me that they carry their tension in this area, I was not surprised.
Not only can this lead to headaches and pain in the associated areas but it activates the fight, flight-freeze part of our nervous system—the one that releases cortisol and epinephrine. Chronic release of these hormones creates inflammation, anxiety, gastrointestinal symptoms and a host of other problems in the body—that can hit now or take years to show up. The good news is that you can change way you breathe, and, since we are always breathing, we have thousands of opportunities to change the pattern each day! Slowly breathing into the lower lobes of the lungs can create expansive changes in your body and mind that are accessible anytime, anywhere.
I have found the following exercises to be effective for myself and those I have taught. They are also good for short and long term health and well-being. If done daily, you should notice benefits within 6 weeks. Try them first in a relaxed setting and they will be more easily accessed in times of stress or anxiety. For all of these exercises, scan the body and mind before and after to notice any changes.
This exercise is short, easy, and can have profound effects on your nervous system. If practiced daily, you can lower your blood pressure and anxiety, and get to sleep easier. You can do it with your eyes open or closed, seated, standing, or lying down. Just make sure to keep a neutral spine in whatever position you choose.
Inhale slowly through your nose to the count of 4
Hold your breath to the count of 7
Exhale through your mouth with the tip of your tongue touching the gums between your top 2 front teeth to the count of 8.
Do this for a total of 4 breath cycles, then breathe normally and scan again for any changes in your body. The ratio is what is important. If you start out and find it difficult to hold your breath or exhale for the duration, speed up the counting but keep the ratio at 4,7,8. This is an exercise you can do anywhere, anytime. Over time you can increase to a total of 8 cycles.
Cross Nostril Breathing.
This is an amazingly effective technique for switching from the fight, flight, freeze part of the nervous system to the rest and relaxation part of your nervous system. It is super simple. It’s a good one in times of anxiety or overwhelm and works very quickly. I have used it before presentations and athletic events. It's a good one for kids too.
Close your right nostril with your right thumb and slowly inhale through your left nostril.
Close your left nostril with your middle finger and exhale, then slowly inhale through the right nostril.
Close the right nostril with your thumb and exhale, then inhale through your left nostril.
Repeat for 5-10 breaths and scan for any changes.
Exhale Focus Breath
The breath follows your intention so this exercise takes more focus than the others. This is a good one to do lying down or in a chair. Keep the spine neutral. It's a good one if you are lying in bed unable to get to sleep.
First, just focus on your exhale. Where is it coming from? Breathe normally. Don’t try to influence or change it. Just be a silent, curious observer. Do this for 5-10 breath cycles.
Next, still focusing on the exhale, try to close the ribcage while gently drawing in the lower abdominals as you release each breath. The key to getting a full breath is completely emptying the lungs of CO2.
As you inhale, slowly let the lower ribcage expand in all directions while keeping the lower abdominals quietly engaged. Think of moving from below the armpits and keep the neck and shoulders relaxed. It can be helpful to put your hands on your back and sides and breathe into them to see if your ribcage is moving. Try 10 breaths exhaling and inhaling while moving the rib cage like this. More if you are able.
If you want more of a challenge, imagine the exhale as the first part of the breath cycle. These are not big breaths but just normal breaths with an intention directing where you want the air to go. See if you can try to exhale 2x longer than you inhale. Start with 10 breaths then increase.
*If you are a shallow breather and you try these exercises—you will get more oxygen, which can make some people dizzy. Make sure you are sitting down for the first few tries and avoid doing while driving until you see how your body responds. Once you get it down, the increased oxygen feels really good and can help with feeling more alert—but calm at the same time.
Leave us a comment and let us know how it went for you!
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