Have you ever noticed when you’re in a stressful situation, the quality of your breath changes? If not, don’t take my word for it…start to pay attention to what happens. Our mind and the breath are intricately connected. If our minds are agitated and stressed, the breath will be irregular, more audible, and we usually feel it in our upper chest…if our minds are calm, the breath will be more regular, silent and felt lower in the abdomen. This is what I hear from my students when they’re under duress:
“I hold my breath a lot, and I don’t mean to.”
“My breath feels shallow and I feel it very high, like up to my collar bones.”
“My spouse (coworker, children, friend, etc.) hears me taking big sighs through my mouth. A lot of times, they notice before I do.”
These are examples of dysfunctional breathing patterns. A large majority of people living with anxiety have dysregulated breathing. This is called over-breathing, or chronic hyperventilation. Over time, when breathing too much becomes habitual, meaning we don’t have conscious awareness of it, many times, it ends up feeding back into the symptoms of stress. The good news is, we can actually train ourselves, with time, attention, intention and discipline, to breathe within our body’s regular metabolic needs, which promotes more well-being, a calmer mind and more ease in the body.
Here are three conscious breathing tips for more balance, alertness and ease:
1. Close your mouth – Breathing through the nose has 2-3 times the resistance than breathing through the mouth. When we breathe recruiting more movement from the diaphragm, (the main breathing muscle) this sends signals throughout the body that you’re safe. Also, the nose is not just a protrusion on your face, behind it there is an amazing built-in air filter about the size of a billiard ball, called your sinus cavity that moisturizes, filters impurities, and conditions the air you breathe to be the perfect temperature for the lungs to receive it. The sinuses also produce nasal nitric oxide, which may have antiviral and antibacterial properties. Who knew breathing through your nose can help fight off cold bugs! 2. Slow the breath down – When we slow the breath cadence, or the number of breaths per minute, we engage our parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest part… (like the brakes on a car). In particular, when we allow the exhale to be longer than the inhale, we start to become more aware of the present moment, circulation increases in the body, heartrate slows and you feel more alert. In short, when in doubt, breathe out, and the inhale will take care of itself. 3. Hold the breath briefly…and consciously – When you notice those habitual BIG sighs through the mouth when you’re stressed out, pay careful, precise attention to your exhale, make it a few seconds longer than your inhale and hold the breath after your exhale for 3-5 seconds before you take your next inhale. This will help to counteract the over breathing habit of taking the big breaths. The more you pay attention to this habit, and noticing under what circumstances it occurs, the quicker you’ll catch it and perhaps begin to inhibit over breathing altogether.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can tap into managing your nervous system through the breath, take a look at my Buteyko breathing program HERE. I’d love to hear from you – feel free to reach out to me HERE.
Allison Peet is a certified Buteyko Breathing Method instructor through the Buteyko Breathing Clinic International and a certified Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction instructor through UMASS and Brown University.