Just Breathe! Deep Breathing Boosts Health and Busts Stress
Deep breaths every day are a quick, easy investment in better health
The importance of deep breathing, belly breathing, abdominal breathing--whatever you want to call it-- becomes clear once you realize that in 5 minutes a day it can change your life for the better. It's free, safe, easy, and one of the best possible things you can do for your health. Here, some thoughts on why & how to deep breathe for wellness, relaxation, and inner peace.
(photo via flickr cc ~ cropped for shape)
I Should Have Paid More Attention In Lamaze
Like many people, I first heard about deep breathing as a stress and pain management tool when I was expecting my first baby and began taking childbirth classes. My husband and I did the exercises in class as best we could, but I can't say we totally got it. I was in workaholic mode at the time and had no clue how important stress management would soon become, not only for adjusting to parenthood but for the long, unpredictable adventure that is raising a family.
Only years later was I forced to learn how to deep breathe. Two things happened to nudge me along: The hubby and I decided to learn how to scuba dive, and we learned how important slow, relaxed breathing is for conserving the air in a scuba tank and getting the most out of a dive. "Never hold your breath" is a cardinal rule in scuba, and I realized that it's actually good advice for dry land, too! Often in tense or hurried moments, it's easy to hold your breath without even knowing it. And that's not ideal for physical or emotional health.
The other nudge came in the form of an anxious child--one of our twins, now 16. In trying to help him manage his anxiety, I researched relaxation techniques for children. One of the simplest appeared to be belly breathing. I bought a charming paperback book, A Boy and a Bear (see "Toolkit for an Anxious Kid," below), to read to my son at bedtime--and found myself following its prompts right along with him. Soon we both knew how to belly-breathe, and it felt really good.
(photo via flickr cc)
How and Why to Build Abdominal Breathing Into Your Day
A chiropractor explains the benefits of deep breathing, especially for those of us who work long hours at a computer, and explains how to do it.
If Only I'd Known
As a child, I suffered from abdominal migraine symptoms. I realize now these were tension related, and if I'd known how to deep breathe as a kid, I might have spared myself much of the pain. I know because this technique has helped me cut abdominal and stomach pain way down as an adult.
(photo via flickr cc)
Toolkit for an anxious kid:
I have to admit, reading this story aloud to my son calmed me down, too.
A bit new-agey, perhaps, but helpful -- and someone else does the reading with this one...
One of the quieter (yet still interesting) albums from family-music hero Dan Zanes.
Any anxious child will relate to the endearing heroine of this story and take comfort in its "you're not alone" message.
Give it a try!
5 Easy Steps
1. Get in a comfortable position. Lying down is probably best while you're still learning. Close your eyes and focus on breathing.
2. Put your hands on your belly so you can feel it rise and fall.
3. Take a deep breath to a count of 4, through your mouth or nose. Feel your belly rise as it fills with air.
4. Pause for a moment, then exhale through your mouth for another count of 4. Feel your belly fall.
5. Pause again for a moment, then take the next breath.
Repeat this simple process for 10 minutes, or even 5 if that's all you have.
When to do it? Several times a day is awesome, but try starting with once. Bedtime is a natural fit, and this can help you sleep better. Or try it in the morning, like I often do, when you first wake up, to prepare for the day. You're already prone, so that saves a step. ;)
Once you've trained yourself and this technique is second nature, you can do it anytime. Stuck in traffic? Take a few belly breaths and you'll care a little bit less--I guarantee.
Resources: Stress & How to Manage It
Here are a few of my favorite links on the subject.
- "Body Has A Built-In Stress Reliever"
NPR story on the the fast-acting, proven benefits of deep breathing for our hearts, brains, digestion and immune systems.
- Mayo Clinic tips
Background and advice from a medical perspective
- American Institute of Stress
A nonprofit focused on this issue
- "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers"
Summary of fascinating work by Robert Sapolsky, PhD. I saw him speak once at a conference, and he was great.
- Kids and stress
Overview by Elizabeth Scott, M.S., on stress management for the young'uns.
Have you used deep breathing techniqes like the simple one described here? Yoga, meditation, aerobic exercise, Ben & Jerry's ;) ? What helps you keep your cool in a stressful world?