You would be amazed by how many people I see who think they are using deep or relaxed breathing techniques but are actually breathing in a really unhelpful way (until I show them how to do it in a more helpful way, that is)!
There are many variations of breathing exercises and techniques and for the most part, it comes down to personal preference as to which ones you use.
I personally don’t like to count or hold my breath in my breathing exercises, but whatever method you choose, it is helpful to notice where the air is going in your lungs.
When we breathe into the top part of the lungs, we are usually taking in slightly more oxygen than we actually need. We tend to breathe into the top part of the lungs without even knowing it when we are rushing around, talking and busy, and for the most part it doesn’t cause a problem.
However, if we are under stress we may breathe like this for most of the time, even when we are inactive or resting. In its extreme form, over-breathing becomes hyperventilation, which is a key component of anxiety and panic attacks.
If we are aiming for relaxation, the most helpful form of breathing is diaphragmatic or ‘deep belly’ breathing in which the air gets down to the lower part of the lungs. As the lower part of the lungs expand, this flattens out the diaphragm – which is the big sheet of muscle that sits underneath the lungs.
When breathing from the diaphragm, your belly should move more than your chest.
Here are 3 top tips to get the more out of your breathing exercises and to help promote diaphragmatic (or deep belly) breathing.
Tip 1: Take slow steady breaths rather than forced or exaggerated breaths.
If you are taking in a forced, sharp or exaggerated in-breath, the air is probably going into the top part of your chest, rather than down into the lower part of your lungs. This can happen even if you are using the ‘in through the nose and out through the mouth’ style of breathing.
Try it now…
See what I mean?
One way you can try getting the air down to the lower part of your lungs by lying on your back, placing a small cushion or light object onto your tummy and watching it move up and down.
Tip 2: Keep an open posture
If you are attempting deep belly breathing, it is helpful to have a relaxed and open posture rather than sitting or lying with crossed arms, legs or a hunched body posture.
Likewise, if you are used to holding your stomach in or wearing clothes that suck you in, relax those stomach muscles, ditch the Spanx and let it all hang out!
Tip 3: Practise when you are feeling calm (particularly if you are new to using breathing exercises)
Breathing exercises are very useful to manage stress but the temptation is to use breathing exercises only in response to stress.
If you are a beginner, the best time to practise is actually when you are already feeling calm. This way, you can get into a relaxed breathing rhythm more easily and naturally and notice how it feels.
Some beginners wait until they feel stressed or anxious, try to practise then feel more stressed that they can’t get their breathing exercise to work!
Relaxed breathing can also help to maintain relaxed state and promote wellbeing, so don’t reserve your breathing exercises purely for times of stress.
Want to learn more?
Louise from Lemon Squeezy Wellbeing and Jen from Flourish in Mind are teaming up to deliver a new workshop at Hub 26 (off junction 26 of M62 in West Yorkshire).
At our ‘Workplace Wellbeing that Works!’ workshop you can learn what stress is, how to recognise your stress signature and learn tools to manage stress and promote wellbeing, including breathing exercises.
You can find details and tickets here: Workplace Wellbeing that Works!
We look forward to seeing you there!
Louise & Jen