… And How to do it Properly
By Michelle De Berardinis
You’ve probably heard about the importance of meditation and mindfulness for improving your mental health and overall well-being. Meditation is a fantastic tool that almost anyone can learn, but a lot of people don’t realize that deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, is at the core of all types of meditation, making it a great alternative for those who may not have the time or interest in meditation.
When performed properly, diaphragmatic breathing is a fundamental grounding technique that automatically signals your brain to relax the body, even when you’re stressed. It also has a large number of health benefits, both physically and mentally.
Physical Benefits of Deep Breathing
1. Relaxes Muscles and Relieves Tension
When you take a deep breath, you can physically feel your muscles relaxing. This is a great exercise for anybody with extra tight muscles. You can test it out right now; with two fingers, press down on a tight spot on your shoulder/neck area until you find a pressure point that hurts a bit when you apply some pressure. Don’t press so hard that it really hurts, but just enough to pass the point of comfort. Now, without relieving any pressure, take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, and hold it for about five seconds. Then, slowly begin to exhale. You should feel a little less discomfort on the tight muscle you’re pressing on, even though you didn’t relieve any pressure. The muscle is starting to relax as a result of your deep breathing.
2. Relieves Pain
When you are stressed, your brain releases a chemical called cortisol, which inflames your organs, alters the hormone levels in your bloodstream, and creates muscle tension. Deep breathing, on the other hand, causes the brain to release endorphins, the “feel good” chemical which counters these effects by telling your brain and muscles to relax. This is not to say that deep breathing will completely eliminate all of your physical pain, but it’s a good coping mechanism that grounds you both physically and mentally.
3. Strengthens Systems of the Body
Deep breathing increases oxygen flow, and oxygen is essential for everything that the body does. So it’s no surprise that deep breathing strengthens almost all of the major systems of the human body. Here are a few examples:
Respiratory System – relaxes and stretches breathing muscles, improving posture.
Immune System – helps regenerate cells to fight infection and harmful bacteria.
Circulatory System – improves blood flow to the whole body, regulates heartbeat.
Digestive System – improves digestion, helps relieve gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea or constipation.
Nervous System – activates the parasympathetic nervous system and calms nerves, reversing the fight-or-flight response.
Mental Benefits of Deep Breathing
1. Greater Mental Clarity
Deep breathing will help calm you down and provide mental clarity. This is especially useful for people who suffer from brain fog. A stronger sense of mental clarity will improve your focus and motivation, and by extension, your productivity. A clear state of mind will also help you make decisions faster and more effectively. The benefits of mental clarity are numerous.
2. Decreases Anxious Thoughts
As a byproduct of activating the parasympathetic nervous system, deep breathing will also help reduce anxious thoughts. After taking several deep breaths, you will start to feel a sense of calm wash over you, even if your anxious thoughts haven’t disappeared completely. Proper breathing technique isn’t a cure for negative thoughts, but it can help you to detach from them. Detachment allows you to comfortably watch them pass by from a more objective and distant perspective. This process is also known as mindfulness, a popular kind of meditation.
3. Boosts Energy
Once you let go of a lot of the anxiety and negativity that may be wearing you down, you will start to notice that you have more energy, both physically and mentally. You’d be surprised at how much energy it takes to entertain negative thoughts; studies show that when people visualize themselves in highly stressful situations, such as a serious car accident or a shark attack, their body responds in a less-severe but similar way to how it would if it were really happening. For example, their muscles will seize up and they’ll become tenser.
Carrying these negative thoughts around all the time will keep you tense and drain you of your vital energy. This is another reason deep breathing is so important. You may also combine deep breathing with positive visualizations instead if you’d like to help counter the negative thoughts.
How To Perform Deep Breathing
Deep breathing can be done virtually anywhere, but it’s best to do it somewhere calming. Once you find the right place, follow these steps:
- Lie on your back or sit down in a comfortable position.
- Place one hand on your chest, the other on your stomach.
- Take a slow and deep breath in through your nose and into your stomach. Take in as much air as you can comfortably hold without moving your chest. You should feel your stomach slowly filling with air like a balloon.
- Hold it in for 4 to 5 seconds.
- Exhale gently through your mouth, feeling your stomach deflate.
- Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Remember to make sure that your chest is mostly still throughout the whole process. If you see your chest rising, that means you are either breathing too hard or too shallow. Your stomach should be the one rising and falling instead. As long as you keep it gentle and slow, you should not have this problem.
Though I would advise you to pick the most comfortable environment possible for optimal results, you can still do deep breathing nearly anywhere in case you don’t have extra time to put aside. You can try it while watching TV, at a desk, or even on the bus. The more you practice, the better. This will ingrain healthy breathing habits that you’ll eventually start to do naturally, which will work wonders for you!