The Importance of Breathing (Properly)

We all breathe, all day every day. So what’s the big deal? Well most of us don’t breathe properly – we breathe high into our chest rather than deep into our belly. Paying attention to our breath is beneficial for our physical and mental health.

Simple breathing techniques can calm both the nervous system and the overworked mind. These work by sending a signal to your brain to turn up your parasympathetic nervous system and turn down your sympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system commands your fight or flight response, and when it fires, your heart rate and your breathing speed up, and stress hormones like cortisol start pumping through your bloodstream, preparing your body to face a threat.

If the threat is, “A lion is chasing me and I need to run away,” this is helpful. If the threat is, “I am meeting new people today” or, “I’m so upset with my mum,” this is not particularly helpful, and in fact it can be damaging – when cortisol (a stress hormone) is elevated for too long or too frequently it disturbs all the hormonal systems of the body.

The parasympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, controls your rest, relax, and digest responses. When the parasympathetic system is dominant, your breathing slows, your heart rate drops, your blood pressure lowers as the blood vessels relax, and your body is put into a state of calm and healing.

Putting your body in a parasympathetic state is as easy as these breathing techniques below.

What to do:

  • Sit in a chair with both feet on the floor. Sit a little forward on the chair so that your back is straight.
  • Close your eyes – keep your eyes relaxed, you can’t be properly relaxed if you are frowning!
  • Observe how you feel in your body today. Don’t judge, just notice.
  • Observe how your energy level is today. Don’t judge, just notice.
  • Start to pay attention to your breath. Just notice the breath going in and out. There is no right or wrong, only what your breathing is.

Then try this:

  • Place one hand on your tummy and one hand on your heart.
  • With an in breath, feel your tummy expand and then your chest.
  • With an out breath, feel you tummy deflate and then your chest.
  • Do this for 12 breaths.

Or try this:

  • After paying attention to your breath, gently start to count the length of your in breaths, count the length of your out breaths.
  • When you are ready, try and make your exhale longer than your inhale eg if you are breathing in for two breaths and out for two breaths, try to extend your out breath for three to four breaths.
  • Do this for 12 rounds.

Or try this:

  • After paying attention to your breath, on an inhale, “slurp” breath in for two, hold for one, in for two, hold for one, in for two
  • Exhale fully
  • Do this for 12 rounds.

A few points to remember:

  • The most important thing is that the exhale is longer than the inhale, not how long you are actually holding it for.
  • This technique should be done with your nose – however, some techniques to manage anxiety are taught with breathing out through your mouth. This is not right or wrong, just different.
  • Try and breathe deep into your stomach (as if it were a balloon) rather than high in your chest.
  • Once you are used to the technique – practice it all the time, anytime. Queues in the supermarket, bank, Centrelink etc become an opportunity to breath!

Breathing properly is one of the many topics we cover in My Life My Dreams. For more information, contact Nicole on 4862 1122.