What is Mindful Breathing?

Breathing. It’s something that comes naturally, and we don’t have any control over it. Right? Not quite! Practicing mindful breathing exercises may have extra health benefits you’ve never even thought of, including reducing both cortisol and bodily tension, increasing circulation and improving digestion, as well as releasing stress hormones. In fact, proper, controlled breathing is the simplest exercise you can do to improve your health. Let’s explore why.

Breathing Through the Nose vs. Mouth

Most of us have seen or even tried breathing techniques such as those practiced in yoga, meditation, and other exercises. But what is the real reason for those methods?

Breathing through either your nose or mouth has the same effect: Transporting oxygen to the throat; however, studies have shown that breathing through the nose instead of the mouth may have a positive health impact.

Among the many benefits, breathing through your nose may help:

  • Filter out impurities such as dust, allergens and other air borne substances before they enter your lungs.
  • Warm up and moisturize air before it gets to the lungs.
  • Increase oxygen uptake and circulation.
  • Lower your risk of allergies and hay fever.
  • Aid your immune system.
  • Decrease your risk of snoring and sleep apnea.

There is also some evidence that nose breathing during cardiovascular exercise may enhance athletic performance.

Try Alternate Nostril Breathing, a technique used in Yoga. Inhale through one nostril and exhale through the other, while using your finger to close the opposite nostril. Because this exercise requires mindfulness and focus, it may also enhance your lung function and decrease stress.

And Speaking of Decreasing Stress …

Did you know that deep breathing may actually slow your heart rate, decrease blood pressure, and have an overall effect on your stress level?

What happens when you’re stressed? We all experience the “Fight or Flight” reaction in our everyday lives. Stress causes us to breathe in a shallower manner, which limits the diaphragm’s ability to expand. The lowest part of the lungs doesn’t get a full share of oxygenated air, which can make you feel short of breath and anxious.

Benefits of Deep Breathing

Deep abdominal breathing (or belly breathing) encourages the beneficial exchange of inhaled oxygen for exhaled carbon dioxide. This can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure. Just by focusing on your breathing and shutting out thoughts, you’re helping disconnect from distractions that may be causing stress.

Here’s how to Breath Focus: Seek out a quiet, comfortable place to sit or even lie down. Start with a normal breath. Then move to a deep breath: Breathe in slowly through your nose and allow your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen fully expand. Now breathe out through your mouth slowly.

Once you’ve tried the above exercise in controlled breathing, you can make this a morning ritual. Get into a comfortable position and close your eyes. Then blend deep breathing with helpful imagery and perhaps a focus word or phrase that helps you relax.

You’ll find that just a few minutes a day of mindful breathing may have an immediate impact on your health and stress levels. And the best part about it is you don’t need a gym, equipment, or a special environment. This is the one exercise we can all try at home.

“Keep your attention on your breath, its tone, vibration, and speed. It helps to visualize the breath entering through your nostrils, filling up your lungs then as it leaves your body, emptying the lungs.”

Rebecca Sultan, MA, LMFT, LCADC Manager of EAP Services
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