I practice breathing for 18 years and I put the question: Why is deep breathing good for you?
Deep breathing and normal breathing are worlds apart. While normal breathing happens autonomously and most of the time unconsciously, deep breathing must be forced to happen. How can you relax to reduce stress by forcing the breathing? In my seminars on breathing movements and strategies that cover philosophical and psychological aspects of breath, deep breathing is not forced but gently activated, in a way controlled.
Gently activating breathing is crucial and effective element which you’ll experience in the breathing exercises that follow. But before we begin, let’s start with some facts and numbers about breathing, to better visualize the structure of the exercises and connect to deep breathing easier.
The adult’s normal breathing (tidal volume) is about ½ liter of air and that is only about 10% of the total lung capacity (TLC) which is some 5 ½ – 6 liters of air. That means that, there is about ten times more volume in the lungs which can be activated through deep breathing.
The fact that we have the tenfold capacity of air in our lungs brings us to the idea and purpose of deep breathing. We apply deep breathing technique because we want to reach the vital capacity of the lungs. The vital capacity (VC) is the sum of the expiration reserve volume (ERC) + tidal volume (TV) + inspirational reserve volume (IRV) as shown on the picture below:
Activating the vital capacity through deep breathing increases oxygen supply and creates more energy in the body. This is the beginning of the improvement of our overall health.
That’s why deep breathing is good for you – it supplies oxygen throughout the total lung capacity (TLC) thus, strengthens the cardiovascular system and the nervous system among other bodily systems but under one condition: make your progress go slowly and your deep breathing also slowly. The effect is physical and mental health.
Here let’s learn about the 3 deep breathing exercises that can help you feel better:
1. Effortless Relaxation through Exhalation
You can do this first deep breathing exercises wherever you are sitting steadily and comfortably. Even if you feel distressed, it’s fine, you will get stabilized as you perform the exercise. The timing of the tidal volume (TV) of half a liter of air would be about 1.5 to 2 seconds for performing the inhalation and about the same for the exhalation.
Now we will extend the exhalation to 6 seconds, using the tidal volume + expiratory reserve volume:
- Make sure your spine is straight and your chest open so you can breathe freely. Place your palms on your thighs.
- Feel whatever energy or tension is flowing through your body.
- Effortlessly exhale counting to 6 focusing on the airflow leaving your chest.
- Effortlessly inhale counting to 4.
- Gently activate your breath extending the exhalation (without forcing the breath) counting to 6. This time your inhalation will go a bit deeper and faster, and that’s fine.
- Inhale effortlessly counting to 4 (doesn’t matter if the airflow is a bit faster)
- Exhale effortlessly counting to 6 and feel all tension leaving your body. While exhaling effortlessly, feel the relaxation flowing out of your chest through your hands spreading through your whole body.
- Inhale effortlessly counting to 4.
- Exhale and feel the relaxation spreading throughout your head and to your whole body.
Quick Results through Attention to Exhalation
Did you know that stress negatively influences attention performance?
Paying close attention to deep exhalation is the recipe for relaxation. While performing this exercise, there are no stressors that can agitate your nervous system or aggravate you, because your attention is focused on your exhalation. With this breathing exercise, you reduce your breathing frequency from the normal approximate 20 breaths per minute down to 6 breaths per minute.
This way you exhale the air from the lower part of the lungs which normally isn’t recirculated. The substantial reduction of breaths results in calming of the nervous system and delivers the following benefits:
- Reduces energy loss
- Reduces stress in the body by lowering the stress hormone cortisol
- Lowers heart rate
- Lowers blood pressure
- Increases blood’s oxygen level
- Cleanses the blood of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases
Do this deep breathing exercise at least three times a day for five minutes! I will give a few more tips for the optimal workout of all three deep breathing exercises at the end of the article.
2. Energy through Inhalation
Let’s move forward to the next deep breathing exercise. In this significant exercise, we’ll focus on a very valuable moment – building up energy through inhalation. The energy is a crucial physiological value for the development of anything. This exercise must be performed on empty stomach. Get ready, stand up on your feet and:
- Make sure your spine is straight and your chest open so you can breathe freely.
- Effortlessly exhale feeling the relaxation in the body.
- Effortlessly inhale so your stomach expands (count to 4) and continue gently.
- Gently activate your inhalation counting (4-8) so your chest slowly open. This inhalation should be about 60-70% of your total inspiratory capacity.
- Effortlessly exhale focusing on the energy that has built up through the inhalation.
- Repeat step 4, gently inhaling extending to 80-90% of your total inspiratory capacity counting to 10 opening the chest more this time.
- Effortlessly exhale letting all your created energy flow into your fists.
- Gently inhale activating 100% of your total inspiratory capacity counting to 12 (or more if your capacity allows you) opening the chest maximally. Feel the energy, the strength that has built up within your body. Feel your vitality.
Once you’ve reached step 8, repeat this deep breathing movement (on empty stomach) for only (and slowly, in order to prevent hyperventilation) five minutes at the beginning. Create your own rhythm (speed and depth) of breathing. Your energy and vitality will significantly improve.
Feeling Vitalized While Breathing
There are two kinds of deep breathing: slow and fast. I put slow first because it cannot hurt you, it’s safe, soothing and peaceful. It is of meditative nature: subtle, profound and insightful. The fast breathing is of aerobic nature: invigorating, reviving and energetic.
This doesn’t mean that you cannot experience characteristics from the fast breathing when breathing slow or the other way around. When you advance with the deep breathing exercises, you’ll be able to experience all physical and mental energies.
Some of them (like creativity or patience for example) will appear not as intense as others, but through constantly practicing this breathing, you will feel their intensity increase. The two main benefits of deep breathing are:
- Peacefulness = Joy
- Energy = Vitality
All other benefits come out of these two. To be insightful and intuitive, you must be patient and observant; and patience and observance develop through peacefulness. To be resilient and versatile, you must be strong and flexible; and strength and flexibility develop through vitality.
Another great benefit from this deep breathing exercise is that it’s a valuable tool to deal with depression and overcome anxiety in case you experience moments of depressive state of mind. These tools for which I write extensively in my book About the Power of Breath, deliver a systematic mental approach with effective results.
3. Relaxation through Exhalation + Energy through Inhalation
The third deep breathing exercise is about experimenting, experiencing and becoming the expert of your breathing.
Combine the first breathing exercise with the second one and create rhythm of breathing that will harmonize your relaxation and vitality. This time, don’t count but just connect 100% with the flow of your breath:
- Exhale effortlessly, gently activating your expiratory reserve volume (ERV) and expelling all the air out of your lungs. Go very slow without any pressure, thus create relaxation. This movement turns instantly into peacefulness.
- Inhale effortlessly, gently activating your inspiratory reserve volume (IRV) filling it gradually from 60-70% up to 100% with air. Inhaling very slow, light pressure will build up automatically as you fill the lungs with air – but this pressure is pure energy.
Balanced combination of this deep breathing is how you reduce stress, relax and energize your body and mind. Advancing with this breathing technique, you start to develop all mental skills you want to achieve. And in the meantime:
- If you feel too stressed and want to reduce your stress, just apply the first deep exhalation exercise in order to calm down and relax.
- If you feel down and powerless, apply the second inhalation exercise in order to regain your energy and vitalize your whole body.
- If you feel just fine, then apply the third deep breathing exercise which will have the effect of the first two exercises and also prepare you to work on and develop your physiological and mental qualities.
Which is the Best Breathing Exercise?
Is there such a thing as the best breathing exercise?
If I tell you that the best breathing exercise is the “4-7-8 Breathing Technique,” would you agree? Many people think of it as the best breathing exercise for sleep: inhale counting to 4, retain the breath counting to 7 and exhale counting to 8.
And indeed this breathing pattern calms so much to the point of falling asleep pretty quickly. That’s a great benefit but, in our case here, we don’t want to merely fall asleep with a deep breathing exercise – we want to learn how to relax, build up energy and reduce stress in the midst of our dynamic daily life.
Although the question for the best breathing exercise is too general and relative, I am happy to tell you that we have the right answer here:
The best breathing exercise is the one that suits you the best according to your present state of being. So I encourage you to experiment with the deep breathing techniques above and find the best rhythm for you.
You’re probably wondering (as my students and clients do): How long and how often this deep breathing has to be practiced in order to be effective?
Physiologically, the effect is immediate, you can feel the relaxation in your body instantly after the first effortless deep exhalation.
Mentally, it is impossible to give the right answer as it depends on your present mental outlook. For each one of us, the effect and result would be different. The truth is, the more you repeat the deep breathing, the more mental energies you will identify and less sensitive you’ll be to stress.
If you’re a beginner, develop a rhythm and alternatively, create a routine by doing the exercises in the morning right after waking up, before lunch and before going to sleep, each one for five minutes (15 minutes all together). Once you have adapted to this rhythm, you can double the repetition and also the timing (making it 30 minutes 6 times a day). Just do it everywhere and any time.
Do this for a month and you’ll be amazed by the improvement of your energy and your confidence .
Personally, I do it literally all the time. My deep breathing has become my normal breathing.
Breathing – the ultimate life force, bestows you with health, beauty and joy. Breathe deeply, consciously and lovingly and, you’ll get the rhythm of peacefulness and vitality which will eliminate stress entirely. I salute the spirit in you!
More About Reducing Stress
- 7 Stress Management Techniques to Get You Back on Track
- 5 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety (Simple and Calm Anxiety Quickly)
- How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressed
- How to Calm Down When You’re Stressed and Anxious
Featured photo credit: Amandine Lerbscher via unsplash.com
|Harvard Medical School: Relaxation techniques – breath control
|Science Direct: Lung Capacity
|Harvard Medical School: Interval Training
|Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience: The influence of acute stress on attention mechanisms and its electrophysiological correlates