“Reduce the stress levels in your life through relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and exercise. You’ll look and feel way better for it”
Imagine yourself lying in bed after a long day…relaxed, comfortable and starting to fall asleep. How do you imagine your breathing? Hopefully, in this case, your breathing is deep and rhythmic, without you even thinking about it.
Now, imagine what happens to your breathing if you hear a window break nearby as you’re drifting off to sleep. Would you still feel relaxed, comfortable and drowsy? I think not. In addition to the thoughts going through your mind about what that sound might mean, a hormonal cascade begins as your central nervous system moves you from a state of ‘rest and digest’ into ‘fight or flight’ mode.
In both of these situations, breathing is likely an unconscious act: we don’t often voluntarily choose to accelerate or slow down our breathing. But what if we did? It would allow us to consciously affect our central nervous system and move into a more relaxed state.
Breathing is something that unites us as humans. We all do it constantly, but for many, breathing can be an unknown source of stress on the body. Something I often see as a coach is people who are upper-chest dominant in their breathing, meaning they’re breathing through the upper-chest rather than fully using the diaphragm. This is typically exhibited by the shoulders rising and falling with each breath and often occurs with people who are seated for extended periods, as the body builds compensatory breathing patterns to deal with pressure on the diaphragm in a seated position. In other words, when you’re sitting down, breathing in the upper chest is easier than breathing all the way into the diaphragm, but this breathing pattern restricts the amount of air we can get into the lungs.
The act of breathing is intrinsically linked to the central nervous system, which means that we can actively shift our body into more of a relaxed state through the use of breath.
A simple daily breathing practice is to take fifty breaths whilst focusing on breathing fully and deeply into the bottom of the lungs. Breathe deeply in through the nose, pause for one second, then exhale slowly, with another brief pause before the next breath. Over time, as you become more practiced and consistent with this drill, you can assign a timeframe to each breath. Typically, a quality exhale takes 2-3x as long as the inhale, and a short pause marks the end of each breath in and out.
There are three main times that I like to implement this:
1. As part of a bedtime routine:
Breathing exercises relax your body and get you ready to sleep by stimulating the branch of the nervous system responsible for resting and digesting.
2. Before meals:
Being in a less-stressed state aids with digestion and absorption of nutrients from the food you eat.
3. When you’re stressed:
Challenging though it may be, the age old advice to relax and take a deep breath when you’re stressed, nervous, or angry can be very helpful for stimulating the ‘rest/digest’ branch of the nervous system.
Implementing this simple daily habit will pay dividends in many areas with improved sleep, digestion and managing day-to-day stress. Give it a go and see what a change it makes.
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