We all know eating fresh food and staying hydrated make our bodies happy, but you may be surprised how important our breathing habits are to an overall sense of health and wellbeing.
Your breath is directly connected to your nervous system response, which means breathing can hack our physiology to create a different physical state. Whether you want more energy or need to calm down after a busy day, use your breath to achieve both results – quickly.
When you inhale, the motion is connected with our sympathetic nervous system. This is your fight or flight response – the one that gets triggered by danger. Typical symptoms include faster heart rate, sweaty palms, shallow breathing and a heightened sense of alertness. If you’ve ever experienced panic attacks or anxiety, this is what you’re most likely experiencing.
When in balance, this reaction is a healthy response. Unfortunately, many of us live in a constant state of alertness due to our modern living and working practices. Instead of a tiger chasing you, it’s the demands of your boss raising the alarm and your blood pressure. This high stress state takes a toll and will lead to burn-out, which in turn leads to negative health consequences.
It’s important to regularly calm your system and come back to balance.
Our exhale is related to our parasympathetic response – also referred to as the rest and digest state. This is when we are relaxed and content, like after you’ve eaten a nice meal and relax on the sofa. Your body is in a natural wind down, although this can feel unfamiliar and strange if you’re always on the go. Resting should be on your priority list. It’s crucial time fo your body to repair, recuperate, regain energy and reset the system.
If your body is a car, your inhale is the gas pedal and the exhale is the brake. If we’re speeding through life with the pedal to the metal, we will crash. In an ideal world, we want to have both of these elements in balance. That will give us more strength and resilience to tackle whatever life throws at us.
Want to slow down? Exhale for longer than you inhale. Want to energise? Focus on your inhale to power up.
Try this exercise to get yourself in balance.
- Take a comfortable seated position and close your eyes.
- Take a moment to notice how you feel.
- Inhale through your nose for a count of 4.
- Hold your breath for a count of 4.
- Exhale through your nose for a count of 4.
- Hold your breath out for a count of 4.
- Repeat 4 times (and up to a couple of minutes).
Keep your eyes closed. Observe how your body feels and your state of mind.
When you’re ready, finish the exercise and open your eyes.
If you are pregnant, holding your breath is not advised. In this case, skip the hold and inhale for 4, exhale for 4.
If it’s challenging to hold for 4, start with a lower count of 2 or 3 and work your way up to longer holds.
Day to day breathing is best done through your nose. This is the natural pathway for our breath, but many people turn to mouth breathing which has been linked to negative health effects. Our nose has natural filters to clean air pollutants and particles that can irritate our airways. Nose breathing also increases oxygen absorption by producing nitric oxide. We also want to focus on abdominal breathing, which will activate our diaphragm, the most efficient muscle for breathing.
Now you know how to drive the car. Keep practicing this exercise, share your experience with us, and breathe the change you wish to see in the world.