Take a breather— try ‘mindful breathing’for relaxing, lowering your stress
You do it every day. You do it without thinking. You do it in your sleep. Stopping would be ill-advised. What is it? Breathing. However, did you know that controlling the simple act of breathing has the power to enhance your life in many ways? It’s available to you 24/7. And it’s free. You can’t beat that!
It is rather ironic that though breathing is something people do naturally, it is necessary to learn how to use it effectively. It takes practice to do anything well. Breathing is no exception. One has to become aware of one’s breath to do something called “mindful breathing,” which is a powerful tool in the fight against stress.
So, what exactly is mindful breathing and what are its perks? It is exactly what it sounds like — being aware of your breath — each inhalation and exhalation for a short time. In this manner, you can achieve relaxation, clear your mind of worries and lower stress. Sound too good to be true? Give it a try.
Sit quietly, close your eyes if possible and start to focus on your breathing. Think of nothing except your slow inhalations, trying to clear your mind of all else. Actually visualize this breath, inhaling clean, white air and exhaling the negative, dark feelings from your body. Focus only on your breath — it is not as easy as it sounds. But by performing this exercise, you hone in on your breathing and exist only in that moment. Breathe deeply, bringing in oxygen and, of course, expelling carbon dioxide. Slowly but surely you will begin to relax, to feel less stressed and to reap the benefits of mindful breathing.
This technique can help to quiet the nerves in stressful times — perhaps at the dentist’s or doctor’s office, before taking an exam, meeting new people or in any unnerving situation. It is tried and true and it can work for you, too.
While the process of breathing needs no instruction, did you know that there are different ways to breathe? And furthermore, that there are benefits to doing it one way versus another? Nasal breathing has been shown to be more beneficial than mouth breathing in many ways. It can increase circulation, slow heart rate, improve lung function and lower stress levels.
The nose actually warms the air you inhale, which helps the lungs function better. Nasal breathing also moisturizes the air you breathe in, and the tiny hairs in your nose serve to filter that air. Nasal breathing can even reduce snoring. Remember that air travels through the sinuses when you breathe through your nose. The sinuses filter the air as it enters the lungs. And nasal breathing can also help fight dehydration in that it does not dry the throat as much as mouth breathing.
Here is a breathing exercise that you may find beneficial: Sit with one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Take a deep breath, making sure that it is the hand on your belly that is moving, and not the one on your chest. Your goal is 10 slow breaths per minute. Try to do this for 10 minutes a day to start. This can lower your blood pressure and heart rate and will serve to relax you.
Mindful breathing is a great method to fight insomnia on nights when you cannot quiet your mind at bedtime. Give this a try — a good night’s sleep might just be a breath away.
Terry Alburger is the fitness instructor at Brittany Pointe Estates, an ACTS Retirement-Life Community in Lansdale. Email thoughts to email@example.com.