"Take a breather," "Stop and take 5 deep breaths," "Breathe deeply." We hear these messages all the time, but do we really know why we should breath more deeply or even how to do it? On some level we know that deepening the breath is a tool for relaxation and stress-relief, but simply knowing this fact isn't enough to get acquainted with this powerful technique. If you're curious about learning more about breathwork and how to incorporate deep breathing into your arsenal of self-care techniques, read on:
1 | What is diaphragmatic breathing and how does it help calm the nervous system?
Diaphragmatic breathing refers to a style of breathing in which air is pulled deep into the lungs, causing the diagram (the muscle mainly responsible for breathing) to push on your digestive organs, causing them to protrude. Most of us breathe shallowly into the upper rib cage. Even when we think about taking an intentional deep breath (like at the doctor's office) we will often draw more air into the upper chest cavity, instead taking it deep into the lungs. This is simply because most of us were not taught how to take a restorative, deep, mindful breath.
Deep breathing like this (especially when the exhale is longer than the inhale) sends an immediate message to the autonomic nervous system (the part of our bodies in charge of the stress response) to calm down by activating the parasympathetic response, or the "rest and digest" response. The mind and body evolved to respond in this way to keep us safe from threats to our survival, but in today's world, even daily stressors like deadlines and traffic can activate our stress responses. Knowing about how to influence the body's responses is the first step to taking your stress into your own hands.
2 | How can I use deep breathing in a pinch when I'm stressed out?
One of the great aspects of utilizing deep breathing as a coping tool is that you don't need any special training, equipment, special space or even extra time to do it. You can practice deep breathing while working, talking to friends and family, or in bed before you drift off to sleep. Simply bring awareness to the rate, depth and quality of your breath, first without attempting to manipulate it. Often this is enough to deepen the breath! If you need some extra help, place one hand on your belly and one on your chest. On the in-breath, make your belly big with air and keep your chest as still as you can. On the out-breath let go of the air and let your belly collapse inward.
3 | What's an exercise I can do when I do have time to devote to my breathing practice?
The breathing technique I've personally gained the most from is "Transformational Breathwork," in which the practitioner lies down, breathing in and out exclusively through the mouth, first quickly in to the low belly, then in to the chest, then out fully, then repeats for about 30 minutes to 1 hour. This instruction seems simple enough, but has intense transformative effects on one's emotional state, physical experience, spiritual growth and perspective on life. The practice can cause individuals to move past physical discomfort and break through limiting beliefs about oneself. I suggest practicing this breathwork with a meditation teacher who has experiencing facilitating this process for others.
If you're local to the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend breathwork classes as The Den Meditation Studio (locations on La Brea and in Studio City.) I take Jon Paul Crimi's workshop and Rebecca Kordecki's class — both are AH-mazing!
Now it's your turn! I'd love to hear from you:
- Do you experience stress, tension and/or anxiety? Are you looking for coping methods to help with these?
- Have you tried deep breathing to reduce stress, tension and anxiety? What was your experience like with it?
- Do you have a meditation practice that uses the breath as an anchor — or a focal point to bring you back into the moment?
- Which aspect of this post are you most interested in trying out in your own self-care practice?
Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below. I would love to hear what you would add if there's anything here I'm missing. Thank you for reading and be well.
about the author
Hi! I'm Natalie. And my passion is helping people live more peaceful, meaningful lives. Through holistic therapy in Pasadena and here on the blog, my mission is to provide people with the support and tools they need to live their best life.