Relax With Breathing Exercises

Written by: Eva Kovač, Univ. graduate of Psychology

Let's imagine an important event that takes our breath away, maybe the moment when we are so angry that we rather take a few deep breaths or when we try to calm down our breathing in some critical moments. We can see that we often try to influence our breathing, even though we don't know much about breathing techniques.

It was considered that we don't have control over the autonomic nervous system, which is partially true, but we still know a lot of stories from individuals, Buddhist monks or top breath-hold divers (apnea) who are capable to relax their body and heart rate only with regulation of breathing.

Of course I am not trying to recommend you to attempt some kind of extremes but it would be a shame if you don't transfer the usage of breathing techniques in your everyday life, because we are capable to relax relatively quickly and easily and ease body's negative effects of stress.   

Chest or Stomach Breathing?

Air exchange occurs because muscles contract lungs. This can happen in two ways, with chest or stomach breathing, by moving the diaphragm up and down.

With chest breathing the chest opens, shoulder muscles rise and we inhale air. This kind of breathing is generally not advised. Chest gets involved in breathing when the diaphragm's power becomes inadequate for a wholesome gas exchange. We usually use it during physical strains to allow additional airing in accordance with increased strain. When physical strain is completed, mixed breathing becomes normal stomach breathing and the excessive airing stops. 

Relaxed and stomach breathing is just the opposite – deep, relaxed and evenly, usually breathing with the stomach or diaphragm and is the only normal and wanted form of breathing when resting. We of course don't breathe with the stomach but it's only a feeling when the diaphragm lowers down, the air accumulates in the lungs and that time the stomach bulges. With this kind of breathing the lower, more circulated part of lungs is airing deeper, which sends blood rich with oxygen through the body. Diaphragm breathing is used by all children and adult when sleeping, because it's natural and innate for the human. 

Later we wean ourselves off breathing naturally due to numerous influences, the stomach tightens and we start to breathe with chest. Chest breathing becomes a women's characteristic, meanwhile men usually breathe correctly with the diaphragm.

Breathing when under Stress

Breathing changes in stressful situations and in the anxiety state and that time chest breathing additionally strengthens, which doesn't provide sufficient quantity of air for the body's optimal functioning. Breathing becomes shallower and quicker in stressful situations. People usually make a mistake in this point, because we want to calm down our breathing in some way, usually by focusing on breathing. Probably all of us remember our grandmothers' advice: "Just take a few deep breaths.". This is a good advice, but at the same time we forget about an essential thing. Exhale.     

We usually forget to exhale and that is why it is short, much shorter than the inhale. This is the reason a certain amount of unused oxygen stays inside, which only takes space in lung capacity. That is why most of breathing exercises especially emphasize a deep exhale. It should be even twice as longer as the inhale.   

Lack of oxygen causes fatigue, drop in concentration, the feeling of a heavy body, lack of activation and the feeling of exhaustion. And just the opposite, a good supply of oxygen accelerates blood circulation, blood is richer with oxygen, metabolism functions better on a cellular level, which allows a better energy mobilization for the human and reflects in the feeling of strength and consequently in better functioning.

How Can We Help Ourselves?

For optimal functioning a human therefore needs a certain amount of energy, which can only arise with an adequate oxygen support ensured with breathing. Some eastern approaches, such as yoga and meditation, incorporated different breathing forms for this purpose. Of course the essence of all different approaches and breathing exercises is to calm down breathing so that it is similar to the correct breathing as much as possible.

Breathing Exercises are Very Efficient Exercises for Relaxing Current Tension

and can be used in the stress situation itself. We can execute them anytime, anywhere, because it is about a short-term relaxation. We can use them when we feel tension, fear, stage fright or anxiety. Breathing exercises can also be beneficially used to treat insomnia, ease asthma, chronic pain, anxiety disorders and panic attacks, balance blood pressure and cope with chronic symptoms of tiredness (in extreme cases burnout).  

Research shows that human breathing becomes slow, steady and softer in the relaxation state. Similar as during sleep. Stomach breathing relaxes the autonomic nervous system, which lowers blood pressure and heart rate, reduces body's level of stress hormones, reduces accumulation of lactic acid in muscles, balances the ration between the oxygen and carbon dioxide in blood and improves immune system functioning. And the most important, calm breathing also affects individual's well-being. 

Do not forget that correct breathing patterns can be learned. At the beginning you can help yourself with @life guided exercises and later you will be able to use breathing exercises independently.