Do any of the following sound like something you would be interested in?
- Reduced stress
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced heart rate
- Reduced feelings of depression
- Reduced anxiety
- Digestion support
If not, then it is probably safe to say you are either as calm, cool and collective as a shaolin monk or so out of touch with how your body feels, you are comfortably numb. However, if any of these benefits sparked something within, then read on.
Pranayama or yoga breathing, defined as “the control of the life force,” has been shown to increase theta brain wave EEG recordings responsible for relaxed and stress free brain activity. Pranayama increases parasympathetic activity, the part of the nervous system that regulates rest, digestion and reproduction along with increasing alertness and reinvigoration.1
As you breathe in, the diaphragm, a strong sheet of muscle that divides the chest from the abdomen drops down, pulling your lungs with it and pressing against abdominal organs making room for the lungs to expand and fill with oxygen. As you exhale, the diaphragm moves back upward pressing against your lungs, releasing carbon dioxide.
Image courtesy of Harvard Mental Health Letter
Studies show deep breathing can alleviate depression and anxiety; raise the feel good hormones oxytocin and prolactin while lowering levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.2,3 The brain uses roughly 80% of the oxygen present in the body, therefore, breathing optimally will support mental health and overall well being.
Poor posture decreases the space available for the lungs to fully expand. Then add stress that originates from any or all of the number of lifestyle factors such as poor health, finances, family, friends, unfulfilled expectations, career and so on, and it is no wonder you can’t leave your GP’s office without a prescription for an antidepressant or beta blocker. Okay, I admit, that was an unfair jab at those doctors who only treat symptoms, but what do you expect for visit times rarely exceeding 6 minutes in length.
There are a number breathing techniques available but I will stick to two of my favourite, which are quite easy. They are;
Belly Breathing (4-2-8)
To start, place one hand below your belly button and the other hand on your chest. Breathe slowly in through your nose filling your diaphragm, which will raise the hand that is below your belly button. I recommend using a four count. Once you have your breathe, hold that breath for a two count then exhale to a count of eight. Repeat this for ten breaths. More seasoned breathers can extend the counts for each phase.
Nostril Breathing (4-2-8)
Place the thumb of your right hand on your right nostril. Breathe in through your left nostril to a count of four. Plug your left nostril with the index finger on your right hand, and hold for a count of two. Release the thumb from your right nostril, exhaling to a count of eight. Repeat, this time breathing in through the right nostril.
1. Jerath R, Edry JW, Barnes VA, Jerath V. Physiology of long pranayamic breathing: neural respiratory elements may provide a mechanism that explains how slow deep breathing shifts the autonomic nervous system. Med Hypotheses. 2006;67(3):566-71. Epub 2006 Apr 18.
2. Chung LJ, Tsai PS, Liu BY, Chou KR, Lin WH, Shyu YK, Wang MY. Home-based deep breathing for depression in patients with coronary heart disease: a randomised controlled trial. Int J Nurs Stud. 2010 Nov;47(11):1346-53. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2010.03.007. Epub 2010 May 11.
3. Pacific Standard website. Performance Anxiety? Take a Deep Breath