Don't forget to breathe!
Before you read this post, I’m going to ask you to do me a favor: take one long, slow, relaxed inhale through your nose. Breathe into your ribcage and upper back, feel your belly expand. Then take one long, slow, relaxed exhale through your nose, getting all the air out.
As I was taking my usual gentle yoga class earlier this week and being instructed to take several deep inhales and exhales, I realized (for like the millionth time) how good it feels to really breathe. And how I hadn’t focused on my breathing at all yet that day (days?), and what a difference just a few simple breaths can make in how calm, focused, and relaxed I feel.
So today I’m talking about breathing! Which on the one hand seems ridiculous, because we all are obviously breathing automatically all day, every day...but taking even just a moment each day to check-in with your breath can have major benefits for your mental, emotional, and physical health.
And you don’t have to do anything fancy or take an hour-long yoga class to get the benefit. Here are a few breathing exercises you can implement into your day:
1) Try taking 3 deep breaths in and out before eating your next meal. Not only does this put your body into the parasympathetic state (the ‘rest and digest’ state, aka: the opposite of the sympathetic or ‘fight/flight’ state) to help you prepare to digest your food, but it also gives you a moment to pause and notice what you are about to eat, how you are feeling, or what else is going on around you. Maybe even take a deep breath between each bite of food.
2) If you have trouble falling asleep at night or wake up and can’t get back to sleep, try this breathing exercise: breath in for a count of 4-6 seconds, hold for a count of 4-6, exhale for a count of 4-6, hold for a count of 4-6. Repeat. (A slightly different version of this: inhale for a count of 4-6, hold for 4-6, exhale for 6-8. Repeat. Both good options!)
3) Increasing the length of your exhale is the fastest (and probably easiest) way to reduce your body’s physiological stress response. So if you are feeling anxious or are in a stressful situation, see if you can slowly and fully exhale for a few breaths. Even if your mind is still feeling the stress, your body will be slowing down its alarm signals (I like to do this when I’m driving and/or doing anything else that is making me feel impatient ).
For a couple more variations on breathing techniques, check out this article: https://experiencelife.com/article/trying-to-unwind-try-these-two-breathing-exercises/
And if you really want to geek out, this is a super fascinating interview (but it’s also super long); tune in around the 1:50:00 minute mark to learn how you can use a ‘physiological sigh’ to calm your autonomic nervous system:
Keep calm and breathe on!