Health and fitness

How five minutes of this breathing exercise can make a big difference

By the team of mental health professionals at Koa Health

As it turns out, just breathe, isn’t such bad advice…

Ever been running around stressed out and had someone call you on it? Did they then proceed to tell you to "just take a deep breath"? As frustrating as it may have been in the moment, it’s actually pretty good advice.

Sure, one deep breath isn’t going to cut it, but a few minutes of deep breathing can make a major difference in how you feel. Not only does deep breathing "quell errant stress response", (Harvard Health Publishing), it invokes a state of relaxation.

The science of deep breathing explained.

If you’re like most people, you probably have a tendency of breathing shallowly and holding in your stomach, especially when you're feeling pressured or stressed. Unfortunately, this habit keeps your lungs from getting a full dose of oxygen and, even worse, can leave you feeling anxious and short of breath.

The opposite of shallow breathing, deep breathing, also known as deep belly breathing or deep abdominal breathing, stimulates a complete breathing cycle—pushing out carbon dioxide with every exhale and filling up your lungs with oxygen with every inhale.

Politicians, actors, athletes, and professionals from all walks of life use this centuries-old technique to induce a state of calm under pressure. Why? Because it works.

But how exactly does deep breathing work?

By taking slow deep breaths, followed by long, slow exhalations, you can effectively "hack" the body’s vagus nerve. This nerve, responsible for sending commands to slow heart and breathing rates and increase digestion, can be "fooled" into thinking you’re calmer than you are.

Slowing and deepening your breath tells the vagus nerve to put the brakes on your body’s fight-or-flight response and relax.

If taking a breather is sounding more and more appealing, read on for a step-by-step guide to getting started with this easy mental wellbeing technique.

How to start deep belly breathing

1. Get comfortable.

Find a pleasant, quiet place where you won't be disturbed. You can sit in a chair, cross-legged on the floor, or lie down and stretch out on a bed or couch—the important thing is that you’re comfortable. Set a timer for 5 minutes.

2. Feel your breath.

To get this technique right, you'll need to be able to feel your chest and diaphragm move. So place one hand on the top of your chest and the other just below your rib cage, above your belly button.

3. Inhale slowly.

As you breathe, focus on taking deep, slow breaths for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, in through your nose—you should feel the hand that's on your abdomen rise.

4. Exhale slowly.

After a count of five, inhaling, exhale gently through your mouth to the count of five—very gently blowing out the air through your slightly pursed lips—if you're doing the breathing correctly, you'll feel the hand on your stomach rise with each breath in and fall with each breath out, while the hand on your chest remains still.

5. Keep breathing.

Inhale and exhale to the count of five until the timer goes off. Make an effort to breathe deeply and slowly more regularly. If you find you need more guidance with this activity, you may want to check fantastic resources out there that can give you the support you're looking for. Together, we'll find the tools that work best for you and help you create a sense of balance and well-being. You've got this!


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