“Take a deep breath. It’s just a bad day, not a bad life.”
How many times have you heard that quote before? It might sound cliche and frankly way past our generation but it is not wrong at all.
As absurd as it sounds, taking a breath of fresh air is the most effective home remedy to improve your physical and mental well-being, and here is how breathing can change your life.
Alleviate anxiety and negative emotions
Firstly, breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress levels. When you take in a deep breath, it tells your brain to relax, which in turns, sends the same message to your body.
If you’re skeptical, simply close your eyes and take a deep breath, hold it in for 10 seconds, and breathe out slowly.
To illustrate this, an experiment was conducted with 46 trained musicians and they were randomly allocated to a slow-breathing with or without biofeedback or a no-treatment control group. It was concluded that “a single session of slow breathing, regardless of biofeedback… is particularly helpful for musicians with high levels of anxiety”. (Wells, Outhred, Heathers, Quintana, Kemp, 2012)
Furthemore, engaging in long and slow breaths ‘tricks’ the body into escaping the fight-or-flight mode that is associated with stress. This assists your body into transitioning into a state of zen, allowing you to achieve lower stress levels.
The Wim Hof Method of Breathing
One popular method of breathing is the one developed by Wim Hof. Throughout the years, Wim Hof has developed special breathing exertions that keep his body in optimal condition and in complete control in the most extreme conditions. Follow these simple steps.
Step 1: Be comfortable
Assume a meditation posture: sitting, laying down, or whatever suits you best. Check to see whether you can fully extend your lungs without feeling constricted.
Step 2: Deep breaths
Try to cleanse your mind by closing your eyes. Be aware of your breathing and make an effort to connect with it completely. Deeply inhale via the nose or mouth, then exhale slowly and naturally through the mouth. Inhale deeply from the belly, then the chest, and then slowly exhale. In quick, forceful bursts, repeat this 30 to 40 times. Lightheadedness and tingling feelings in your fingers and feet are possible side effects. These are absolutely safe side effects.
Step 3: Hold
Inhale one last time, as deeply as you can, after the last exhale. After then, exhale and stop breathing. Hold for as long as you can until you feel the desire to breathe again.
Step 4: Recover
Draw a deep breath to fill your lungs when you feel the desire to breathe again. Feel your stomach and chest get larger. When you’ve reached maximum capacity, hold your breath for around 15 seconds before releasing it. The first round is now complete. This cycle can be performed 3-4 times in a row with no breaks in between. After you’ve finished the breathing practice, take some time to relax and enjoy the happiness. This peaceful mood is ideal for meditation, so don’t be afraid to mix the two.
Heart rate variability and how it measures mental health
This is reflected by the improvement in heart rate variability (HRV) which is correlated to mental health.
In layman terms, HRV is a measurement of the risk of cardiovascular diseases and an objective assessment of one’s mental health. The lower the HRV, the more stress your body is under, vice versa and HRV is affected by one’s breathing rate. Thus, taking slow and deep breaths will improve one’s HRV, thus placing the body in a relaxed state.
In contrast, proper breathing can also directly affect one’s cardiovascular system by lowering one’s blood pressure. National Institution of Health’s Dr. David Anderson has concluded that deep breaths dilate one’s blood vessels, thus lowering one’s blood pressure.
While there is no conclusive evidence to suggest why this happens, it is a strong indicator that those who are suffering from high blood pressure, anger management, post-stroke patients and other heart diseases will benefit from breathing exercises.
Lastly, controlled breathing during mediation can stimulate brain growth as focusing on one’s breathing results in the increase in one’s cortical thickness, according to Harvard’s research in 2005.
“We take our breath for granted the way we take our heart beat for granted,” Carla Ardito, a breathing expert at Manhattan’s Integral Yoga Institute and creator of the Breathing Lessons app, told The Huffington Post. “The difference is we can work on our breathing.”