Could it be that breathing is the key to happiness? Breathing better is a surefire way to be less stressed and to keep your cool while dealing with life’s ups and downs. Here’s our guide to improving the way you breathe and feeling much better for it.
Everyone knows how to breathe, of course. It comes naturally and automatically, after all. Without breathing… there can be no life. It’s the first intake of breath, air entering the lungs, that brings forth the newborn’s first cries. Breathing is a physiological act on which life depends, yet most of the time we breathe without thinking about it. Without paying attention to it. So our breathing is only shallow, done with movements that are too fast and focussed on the upper body. The result: tiredness and stress, or at least poor stress management.
What’s your breathing like?
Just lie down, with one hand on your chest and the other resting on your belly. Breathe as you normally would – don’t try to control it.
1- Be aware of your breathing
Take a deep breath. If your chest (upper body) rises first, you’re in “team thorax” and you don’t use your full lung capacity. The aim of the game is to join ”team belly”. and breathe like babies do: by inflating the lower body first. This way, when you breathe in the belly inflates and when you breathe out it deflates.
At first it will require a little concentration from you, since you’ve had breathing backwards for years on end. Once you get used to the new way, just thinking about it at key points in your day (if the Big Boss calls, for example) will be enough to get you back on track and breathing better to weather the storm.
What are the benefits of this right way of breathing?
You get less easily tired, which makes sense, since you’re breathing more deeply and delivering more oxygen to your cells. Another benefit: more effective excretion of toxins. Also note that breathing also has an effect on the production of certain hormones, not least noradrenaline (the attention hormone) and cortisol (the stress hormone). This is why better breath control is beneficial to those with hyperactivity or under sustained stress.
2- Find the right rhythm
It’s really easy to get with it: breathing through the nose, count how many breathe in – breathe out sets you do in one minute (use the timer on your smartphone.). Ideally, you need to get to eight. Yes, the perfect rhythm is much slower than your normal one.
3- A nugget of advice
Don’t forget your posture. You’ll also be able to breathe better with your back straight, your shoulders back and the nape of the neck relaxed.
Control your breathing
When you take control of your breathing, the whole parasympathetic nervous system (which is to do with calmness and relaxation) is stimulated, rather than the sympathetic nervous system (which is to do with excitation and agitation). Focussing on breathing (with big deep breaths) promotes concentration and sleep, and dispels negative emotions (anger, sadness) and fear. Conscious breathing brings us back to the present moment (here and now, not in the future which is a source of worry, nor in the past which is a source of regret).
Breathe to stay youthful
The quality of the skin is also closely linked to stress levels. A dull complexion? Yes, and the rest! Cortisol (yes, that again) has an impact on the skin’s immune system and triggers a decline in its collagen quality (and production). This leads to premature ageing.
Breathing better takes practice!
Three exercises to practise regularly (several times a week):
- Get back in touch with your diaphragm by inflating your belly when you breathe in, really pushing it out to flex what is the main muscle involved in breathing. After two or three seconds, breathe out and draw your belly back in.
- Breathe out through an imaginary straw. This sophrology technique allows you to dispel tension in a matter of minutes. Breathe in through the nose, and then breathe out with the lips pursed slightly, as though blowing through a straw (while picturing all your troublesome thoughts being blown out and away).
- Try out breath switching. If you feel like you’re losing control of a situation, sit down. Once seated comfortably, take a deep breath through the nose (both nostrils). Block one nostril with your thumb, and breathe out through the other. Breathe in again with both nostrils. Block the other nostril, then breathe out. Repeat the sequence for a few minutes.
If you enjoy breathwork, you can also get (re)acquainted with certain practices that promote deep breathing, like yoga, sophrology and Pilates.
Reading material to take it further: