Breathing is a natural thing.  We need to breathe to stay alive, but did you know there is a right way and wrong way to breathe and most of us are doing it wrong.   We breathe in and out approximately 25,000 times a day and most of us breathe too shallow and too fast.  Proper breathing can improve health and well-being so let us learn how to fix this.

At rest, your breathing should be slow and steady, between 12 and 20 breaths per minute.  (You can clink on the link to the article to test your breathing).  Slowing that to five to seven breaths per minute can help reduce blood pressure, regulate heart rate, and lift your mood.  Slow breathing can also help reduce chronic pain, stress and depression, as well as enhance fitness and energy levels.  Recent studies have shown that breath work can help COVID-19 patients return to healthier respiratory rates as well as treat anxiety disorders.

When sick, stressed, or anxious, many people breathe rapidly and shallow from the top of their lungs.  This activates the body’s sympathetic nervous system.  It will increase heart rate, suppresses digestion, and heightens the brain’s tendency to detect danger (real or not!). People who are often exposed to stress or anxiety can develop a long-term rapid shallow breathing habit, making their stress and anxiety worse.

On the other hand, slow deep breathing, the parasympathetic system takes over which enables your body to slow down and return functions like digestion to normal.

Slow deep breathing can be taught.  Here are three exercises you can start with.

4-4-8 Breathing:

This is a great exercise if you are feeling anxious or scared.  Take a breath in for four counts, hold your breath for four counts, exhale for eight counts. Repeat.  This is a great exercise to slow your heart rate and reset your breathing rhythm. (Did you know that every five minutes or so, your body naturally extends the exhale phase)

Alternate Nose Breathing:

This exercise can help improve focus.   Close your right nostril and breathe in through your left for a count of four. Then close your left nostril and exhale through your right nostril for a count of four.  Alternate between the two nostrils.  Ancient Hindu teachings suggest that each nostril is responsible for different brain functions so switching between left and right nostrils balances the two systems and brings focus, calm, and clarity.

Box Breathing:

This can enhance cognitive focus (it is used by the US Navy Seals to prepare for combat). Breathe in for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four.  Repeat.  This forces your breathing into a steady rhythm which helps keep you alert and energized.