The Importance of Good Breathing
One of the best and most efficient ways you can calm your Fajizzle down is through good breathing. Using breathing techniques to activate your parasympathetic nervous system really is a bit of a no brainer when it comes to this stress management shizzle.
I was Facetiming with my Mum recently. She mentioned that she’s been having trouble with her sleep of late. She’s suffering from muscular pain in her leg and it’s causing her particular discomfort at night. She’s finding it difficult to get back to sleep when she wakes up in the wee hours. My antidote to this common sleep challenge is to
- Have a white noise apparatus (I use the White noise app set to ocean waves crashing)
- Find a favourite breathwork meditation for sleep and have it handy. (I use the Insight Timer app)
When you are having difficulty falling asleep, changing the channel on your thinking is one of the first steps to success. Thinking about how impossible it is to fall asleep is one of the biggest barriers to actually managing to fall asleep. And, conveniently, one of the best tools to help with that is your breath. Because when you focus on your breath, you’re NOT thinking about not sleeping!
Why is good breathing so important, though?
Activation of your sympathetic nervous system is also known as the stress response, or the “fight or flight” mode.
This part of your nervous system takes over when it is triggered by a stressor. This is what causes your breath to speed up, become shallow and to shift from your belly to the upper part of your chest. While entering this state can be helpful for times when you need to respond quickly or when you are in danger, too much time spent in this state – living in 4th gear – reinforces stress and is a precursor to chronic illness.
This is why you want to actively engage your parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of your nervous system that supports rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. And, this is where good breathing comes in. This response can be switched on, in part, by deep, diaphragmatic breathing. Yogic breathing and relaxation practices help us to access this state.
Both the sympathetic and parasympathetic responses serve a purpose. It’s just that this purpose has not evolved as quickly as our way of life. The acute stress of encountering some wild beastie is very different to our modern stressors of sitting in traffic.
We want to find a sense of balance and – ideally – some degree of mastery over the nervous system so that we find a place of inner equilibrium and health.
Breathing is a necessity of life that usually occurs without much thought, right?
When you breathe in air, your blood cells receive oxygen and release carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a waste product that’s carried back through your body and exhaled.
Improper breathing can upset the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange and contribute to anxiety, panic attacks, fatigue, and all sorts of other physical and emotional kerfuffles.
Did you know that how you breathe may even contribute to your anxiety levels?
Yeppers. Most of us aren’t really conscious of the way we breathe. Generally, there are two types of breathing patterns:
- Diaphragmatic (belly) breathing
- Thoracic (chest) breathing
When you are anxious, you tend to take rapid, shallow breaths that come directly from your chest. This type of breathing is called thoracic or chest breathing. The thing is, when you’re feeling anxious, you may not even be aware you’re breathing this way.
This chest breathing can cause an upset in the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your body. This results in things like increased heart rate, dizziness, and muscle tightness. Because your blood isn’t getting properly oxygenated it may signal a stress response to your brain that further contributes to your anxiety levels.
During belly or diaphragmatic breathing, you take even, deep breaths. Diaphragmatic breathing involves fully engaging your stomach, abdominal muscles, and diaphragm when you’re breathing. This means actively pulling your diaphragm down with each inward breath. This type of breathing helps your lungs fill with oxygen more efficiently.
Spoiler alert: It’s highly likely you engage in this type of breathing when you’re in a relaxed stage of deep sleep. Newborn babies naturally use diaphragmatic breathing.
Chest vs. BELLY Breathing
The easiest way to tell which breathing pattern you’re using is to put one hand on your upper abdomen near your waist and the other in the middle of your chest. As you breathe, notice which hand raises the most.
When you breathe properly, your belly will expand and contract with each breath (and that’s the hand that will raise the most).
A couple of good breathing techniques
Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing
When it comes to developing a good breathing practice, basic diaphragmatic breathing is a great place to start. To perform basic diaphragmatic breathing:
- Lie down on the floor or your bed with a pillow under your head and one under your knees. This helps to keep your body comfortable, supported and relaxed.
- Place one hand on the middle of your upper chest.
- Place the other hand on your belly, just beneath your rib cage.
- Inhale by slowly breathing in through your nose, drawing the breath down towards your belly. Your tummy should push upwards against your hand, while your chest remains relatively still.
- Exhale by tightening your tummy muscles and let your belly lower while exhaling. Again, your chest should remain still.
Practice this basic diaphragmatic breathing exercise for up to10 minutes at a time.
Once you master the basic prone position, you can move to either seated or standing. Remember to keep your shoulders, head, and neck relaxed.
Practice UJJAYI Breathing
Ujjayi breath is one of the most common types of breathing exercises found in yoga, but you don’t have to be a yogini to practice it. If I can do it, anyone can!
Ujjayi breathing is one of those handy techniques that I find helps me to calm my fajizzle down and to remember to practice good breathing. One of the reasons I like it is because it reminds me of being near the ocean (It’s actually known as ‘ocean breath).
Ujjayi breathing is a very balancing and calming practice. It increases oxygenation and builds internal body heat. Imp[ortantly, both Inhalation and exhalation are done through the nose. You create the sound (or the sea!) by narrowing the airway as air passes in and out – as it would narrow when you whisper. If it helps, you can actually try whispering as you breathe in and out and feel a slight vibration in your throat.
You just inhale and exhale for an equal duration and at a pace that works for you.
Both should make you feel lovely!