Oxygen is the most important element to us humans—far more important than even food and water. After all, we can go for days without water and some can go weeks without food. Humans can’t go more than a few minutes without air.
What many people don’t realize though, is that there are different ways you can breathe—and the way, style, and pace in which you breathe can have a dramatic impact on the state of your mind and body.
For example, most shallow breathing doesn’t give our bodies enough oxygen to function properly. When your breath is consistently shallow, stagnant air, residue, and pollutants can accumulate in the lungs, which can lead to low energy, contracted breathing, and toxic buildup. Deep breathing, on the other hand, gives our bodies nourishment and energy. Deep breathing not only supports healthier lungs, it ensures that oxygen moves through the blood and all cells, detoxifying, energizing, nourishing along the way.
Each part of the breath also has a different focus and benefit. Our inhales lift, energize, and expand us, while our exhales ground and stabilize us—this is important to know when planning a breath exercise to suit your particular needs.
Exhale to Overcome Stress
When you’re feeling stressed, scattered, or overwhelmed, focusing on the exhale will help neutralize those feelings and settle both the mind and body. Our outward breath is neurologically tied to the relaxation response in the brain, that’s why we sigh when we’re relieved. Recall the last time you got a massage or a friend gave you a shoulder rub—you likely took at least one big sigh of relief.
The inward breath is neurologically tied to the stress response. Now recall a time when you were genuinely startled. Likely you took a short in-breath, responding to the surprise.
This exercise will teach you how to “trick” your body into thinking it’s totally relaxed in just five minutes, by igniting the relaxation response in the brain.
- Take a comfortable seat and close your eyes. Allow your body to be comfortable yet alert.
- Start to slow down your breath, deep inhales and slow exhales
- As you slow down your breath, start to extend your exhale to twice as long as your inhale.
- Inhale for 3; exhale for 6
- Follow the pattern—”In” for 3, “Out” for 6—for 5 full minutes. If you can lengthen the outward breath even more than a 6-count, even better.
- Notice how your mind calms down as you slow down your breath and focus on your exhales.
- When your 5 minutes are up, take a few deep breaths before opening your eyes.
That’s it! You can use this trick any time you’re stressed to take the edge off. Try to keep that stillness and internal focus as you move back into your day.