In the previous article we discussed the benefits of breath awareness, the practice of paying attention to aspects of our breathing without actively trying to change it. We learned about how this can immediately help bring us into a state of rest and relaxation by engaging our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
We can also practice consciously controlling aspects of our breathing to influence our nervous system and to achieve a desired outcome. This is called breath regulation.
For thousands of years, yoga practitioners have been using many breathing techniques. They are now becoming more widely used in mainstream society as the body of research supporting them grows. One of these techniques is alternate nostril breathing. This involves a person breathing in through the right nostril and breathing out through the left and then back in through the left and out through the right. This can be practiced through visualization or by physically blocking one nostril at a time. Alternate nostril breathing has been shown to have positive effects on heart rate, blood pressure and sustained attention. It has also been shown to increase activity of the PNS, potentially helping to reduce stress or anxiety.
Another popular technique is cardiac coherence, a deep slow breathing technique that aims to induce a calming effect by inhaling for 5-second and exhaling for 5-second (6 breaths per minute), also by increasing PNS activity. Cardiac coherence videos and applications are more widely available today and are popular in the workplace as a way of reducing stress.
Physiotherapists often use breath visualization techniques to help their clients expand their breath into areas of the body where they may be gripping or holding tension.
Try this: Sit comfortably on a chair, or lie on your back with your knees bent. Place one hand on your chest and one on your belly. As you breathe in, imagine doing so in three parts, filling up your belly, then your ribs and then your chest. On the exhale allow your chest to empty first, then the ribs, and last the belly.
Some people have trouble expanding their breath through the sides of the ribs. To help with this, try placing both hands on the sides of the ribcage. As you breathe in, feel the air expand into the sides and back of the ribs, pushing out into your hands. As you breathe out, notice the hands gently fall back in with the ribs.
Earlier in this article series we discussed how our body’s vital processes are put on hold when we’re in a constant state of stress. This impacts digestion, sleep quality and immune health. We become moody and feel like we’re always tired. It is incredibly important to find ways to incorporate moments of calm and stillness in our day-to-day.
If you can catch yourself in a difficult moment, or notice your mind spiraling into a cascade of worrisome thoughts, try one of these breathing techniques! It may help you bounce back into a relaxed state more swiftly! This can be self-empowering. It can help foster a sense of self-efficacy as you learn that you are completely in control of how you react to your own thoughts, emotions and body sensations.
So now that we are beginning to understand the benefits of tuning into the breath, what’s next? Stay tuned for our next article on mindfulness and meditation!
Intro : Dare to Breathe
1. The Diaphragm: Life and Breath
2. Breath: Supply and Demand
3. Breathing and Joint Mobility
4. The Diaphragm: A Web of Connection
5. Breath and Emotion
6. How Stress Can Change Our Breath
7. Breath Awareness: a Powerful Tool to Bridge the Body and Mind
8. Breath Regulation: Empower Yourself!
9. Mindfulness and Meditation: the Power of Awareness
10. Yoga: Transforming the Body and Mind
Prosko, S. (2019). Breathing and Pranayama in Pain Care. In: Pearson N, Prosko S, Sullivan M (Eds). Yoga and Science in Pain Care: Treating the Person in Pain. London, Uk: Singing Dragon Publishers; pp. 140-156.