I don’t mean breathing into your cupped hands to see if it smells. If that’s what you did and it does smell, please pop a mint and keep reading.
I mean do a check on HOW you are breathing. Are your breaths short and shallow? Were you holding your breath? You might not realize it, but how you breathe says a lot about what’s happening in your life? For example, if you find yourself holding your breath, it means you are hanging on to something in the past. If your breaths are short, quick, and shallow, it means you are anxious or worrying about something in the future.
Let’s try a little exercise. Take a deep inhale through your nose for a good six seconds, hold it for two seconds, then slowly let it out through your nose. How did that feel? Could you feel the stress leave your body? Did you notice how everything in that brief moment slowed down – you didn’t think about what happened yesterday or what you have to do tomorrow. You were fulling living in the present moment. Do this three more times and really notice how your body and mind begin to relax.
More and more research is discovering the many health benefits of mindful breathing (when practiced consistently). Some of the benefits are:
· Detoxifies & releases toxins in the body
· Releases tension
· Relaxes the mind and body
· Improves digestion & assimilation of food
· Improves nervous system
· Lowers blood pressure
· Boosts energy levels
· Improves stamina
· Elevates moods
· Strengthens the immune system
· Strengthens the heart & lungs
· Assists in weight control (reduce cravings)
· Improves posture
· Improves memory and focus
Why the simple act of mindful breathing works has to do with stress and the brain. When you experience stress, the sympathetic nervous system signals the brain to activate the “fight or flight” response. The physiological changes associated with this response include increased heart rate, blood pressure, concentration and focus. This heightened state of arousal continues until the parasympathetic system brings the body and mind back to its normal resting state.
This is all well and good if you are trying to get out of harms way such as having to slam on your brakes in traffic or if you are giving a work presentation. Your body reacts quickly in these situations, and then it moves back to a state of rest once the emergency is over. Unfortunately, many of us stay in fight or flight mode due to the constant pressures of life – demanding workplace, relationship issues, financial troubles, etc. These types of stressors leads to chronic stress which negatively impacts physical health as well as cognitive functioning.
This is where establishing a daily breathing practice can help. Not only is it the quickest and easiest way to manage stress, it could be your greatest defense against the harmful effects of chronic stress.
So HOW do you get started?
One of my favorite breathing exercises is the 4-7-8 Exercise that Dr. Andrew Weil teaches to his patients. It’s simple, takes little time and can be done anywhere.
- Sit with your back straight
- Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge behind your upper front teeth (and keep it there throughout the entire exercise)
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of FOUR.
- Hold your breath for a count of SEVEN.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of EIGHT.
- This completes one breath. Now repeat the process three more times for a total of four breaths.
Dr. Weil suggests doing this exercise twice a day. For the first month, do not do more than four breaths at one time. After a month you can extend it to eight breaths.
Click here to see a video of Dr. Weil demonstrating the 4-7-8 Breath.
Give it a go for a month and see what happens. Would love to hear about any changes you notice.