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March 19, 2019

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The way you breathe may be the key to reducing stress and anxiety

Breathing

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You’ve done it every moment of your life. You do it when you’re awake and when you’re asleep. You do it without thinking or planning. But did you know there’s more than one way to breathe? Sure, the way you’ve been breathing works just fine. But most of us only breathe from our upper chest and not our diaphragm, which means we are not taking full breaths that fill our entire torso, nor are we receiving its full benefits. How you breathe can make you feel better or worse—different techniques can help improve your sleep, focus, stress levels, and can help prevent injury. Curious? Take a deep breath and keep reading.

Consider these tips before you begin

1. Don’t overthink it. Breathing is second nature and always should be. Keep your approach simple and easy.

2. Don’t overdo it. Try new techniques for a minute or two to start. Then slowly build up to longer periods of time. Don’t mess with your intake and outtake too fast. Similar to meditating, it may be difficult at first, but you’ll be able to go a little longer each time you try.

3. Consider your environment. Many of these breathing techniques require concentration, so try to keep the distractions to a minimum.

4. Get cozy. Whenever possible, wear comfortable, nonrestrictive clothing. Breathing is physical, so you want to give your body room to move.

5. Choose a focal point. A photo, person, memory, word, phrase, sound, etc. Whatever you choose, keep it simple and consistent. Many breathing techniques work better when you establish a focus.

Breathing exercises

Bee breath (Bhramari)

A perfect breath for on-the-spot anxiety relief or for overall relaxation, Bhramari encourages you to focus on sound, rather than the anxious feelings you may be experiencing.

Health benefits

Many of these exercises, specifically diaphragmatic breathing, provide numerous benefits to physical and psychological health, according to the National Institutes of Health. Here are a few:

• Reduces: Blood pressure, anxiety, depression, stress, emotional exhaustion, job-related burnout, fatigue, exercise-induced oxidative stress

• Improves: attentiveness, relaxation, sleep and insomnia, metabolism, mental processing, energy levels, overall cognitive performance, COPD

Technique:

1. Sit with your back straight and shoulders relaxed.

2. Close your eyes, relax your lips and gently seal them.

3. Inhale slowly through your nose, filling your lungs, diaphragm and stomach. Pause at the top of your breath.

4. Keeping your mouth closed, exhale slowly through your nose while making a deep humming or buzzing sound in your throat.

5. Repeat and focus on the sound.

The longer you exhale, the more beneficial the results. If you need help focusing, place your fingers over the cartilage near your ear opening and press gently to block out surrounding noise and distraction.

• • •

4-7-8 technique

If you’re having trouble sleeping, this exercise may be for you.

Technique:

1. Exhale through your mouth, making a whooshing sound.

2. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for four seconds.

3. Hold your breath and count to seven.

4. Exhale fully through your mouth for eight seconds.

5. Repeat as desired.

• • •

Deep breathing (diaphragmatic breathing)

Deep breathing is just as it sounds—deeper, longer, more purposeful breath that “involves contraction of the diaphragm, expansion of the belly and deepening of inhalation and exhalation,” according to the National Institutes of Health.

Technique:

1. Breathe in through your nose with your mouth gently closed, filling your lungs, diaphragm and belly.

2. At the top of your breath, hold for three seconds.

3. Breathe out through your mouth. Pay attention to how your body expands and contracts. Feel the air enter and leave your body.

• • •

Alternate nostril breathing (Nadi shodhana)

Excellent for calming the mind, alternate nostril breathing balances the left and right hemispheres of your brain to help ease physical and mental imbalance. In an interview with Anderson Cooper, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touted this exercise as a key stress reliever.

Breathing for kids

Teaching your kiddo breathing techniques can be the key to diffusing hyper, anxious or upset moods. Deep breathing can help calm a child by increasing blood flow, which will improve clarity and your child’s ability to focus.

Technique:

1. Sit with your back straight and shoulders relaxed.

2. With your right hand, place your pointer and middle finger in the center of your forehead and use it to stabilize your hand (your thumb and ring finger will be used to press on and close your nostrils).

3. Close your eyes and then your right nostril with your thumb.

4. Inhale slowly through your left nostril. At the top of your breath, close your left nostril with your ring finger so that both nostrils are closed. Hold for a moment.

5. Open your right nostril and exhale through it slowly. Pause at the bottom of your breath.

6. Through your right nostril, breathe in slowly. At the top of your breath, close it with your thumb and pause.

7. Open your left nostril and exhale slowly.

8. Repeat.

Am I doing it right?

If you want to track your efforts, heart rate monitors and breathing apps can help you follow your progress. Your heart rate will increase when you inhale and decrease when you exhale; look for correlations between your heart rate, behavior and physical health. If you see your heart rate increase because of stress, practice your breathing techniques and note how you respond.

Here are a few apps that may help your progress: Calm; Headspace: Meditation; The Breathing App; Oak: Meditation and Breathing

Need additional help? YouTube is loaded with breathing technique videos offering tips and tricks to help you with your practice.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.