Breathing, Stress and how to Chill Out

In our article titled “O is for Overbreathing” we talk about how dysfunctional breathing patterns can affect emotional and physical factors – sleep, mood, recovery from exercise, and indeed performance during exercise.

Since qualifying as a Personal Trainer, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know many people over the course of several months, and often years. In this time, I have witnessed the typical cycles of life – the joy of birth, grieving, stress accompanying job changes and house moves, to mention a few. What I have come to learn is that throughout happy and sad times, most of us do not breathe well. And this is to our detriment.

Just in it’s simplest terms (without going to the technical levels that Tim could write about) – people simply don’t tend to breath deep enough.

Breathing is by its very nature one of our bodies self-perpetuating functions. That’s really useful – if we didn’t breath automatically our level of functioning would get a whole lot more complicated. But, in times of stress, when we’re overwhelmed or feel like we’re losing control we can help ourselves by taking a few minutes out of our routine and hecticness of daily life to sit, be still and focus only on breathing.

This simple, free and easy act can work wonders to – put bluntly – chill you out! Stating this slightly more technically – your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) functioning will improve.

Your SNS is responsible for increasing your heart rate, blood pressure, adrenaline levels (think fight or flight response), level of oxygen to vital organs, blood clotting (important if you are healing or wounded), and increasing pupil size and peripheral vision. So breathing more consciously for even just a few minutes, could reduce these aspects – and that’s a good thing don’t you agree?

Breathing well, and deeply, with mindfulness can slow down your heart rate, reduce stress and improve your ability to cope with whatever you are facing.

Let me leave you with a few general facts:

We typically take around 12-20 breaths per minute. I know when I’m calm, meditating or doing yoga my breathing rate reduces quite a bit, maybe only taking 4-6 breaths over a minute.

Even taking the lowest average of 12, if you multiply that by 60 minutes, that equates to 720 breathes per hour.

720 x 24 hours = 17,280 breaths per day

Crikey. That’s a lot of breathing in and breathing out.

But do you do it correctly?

Are your breaths as full and deep as they could (should?) be?

In our practice we have found that many people breathe way too shallow – they don’t fill their lungs fully each time – the diaphragm isn’t being used properly.

Do this simple test now – lay on the floor, place one hand on your heart/upper chest, and the other on your belly button. Now close your eyes and notice which hand is moving most?  If it’s your upper hand then you are likely breathing too shallow.

So next time you are facing a challenging day or situation – remember to Breathe Well and Breathe Deeply.


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