Every breath you take can bring you closer to better health, mentally, physically and emotionally. By slowing down and balancing the natural breathing pattern, you can harmonize and balance both the body and brain. Drs. Richard P. Brown and Patricia L. Gerbarg, authors of “The Healing Power of the Breath,” describe how breathwork not only leads to a sense of inner wellbeing, but also helps balance hormones so that we feel physically and mentally more relaxed and calm.
Breathing techniques have long been used to help shift the state of body and mind. Most practices aim to slow down the stress response by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), or relaxation response, which is cued by the pace and depth of our breathing, says Dr. Heidi Hanna, executive director of the American Institute of Stress. This is the calmer member of the automatic nervous system, as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system, or SNS, that is associated with the “fight or flight” response.
“While short, shallow breaths trigger a sense of concern leading to the release of stress hormones for both short and long-term survival, fuller breaths that have a slightly extended exhale seem to help relax the body and quiet the mind,” she tells Newsmax. “Research from Stanford University shows that most people benefit from a breathing rate of approximately 5.5 breaths per minute, which means breathing in to a count of about 5 and out to a count of 5 or 6.”
Heather Berg, a South Florida-based yoga instructor, says that breathwork is one of the most important aspects of the practice of yoga and has used for centuries to calm the body and mind.
“In my work as a yoga and meditation teacher, I treat people with a variety of issues, including depression, anxiety, sleep disruptions, chronic pain, and even life-threatening illness,” she tells Newsmax. “I've seen simple breathwork reduce stress and anxiety, support restful sleep, ease pain, and increase attention and focus. On more subtle level, breathwork can help people connect to a calm, quiet place within so that they experience greater clarity.”
The American Institute of Stress says that breathing evokes the relaxation response made famous by Dr. Herbert Benson. Simple focused breathing helps relieve stress and tension in minutes. Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to the brain and stimulates the PNS, which promotes a sense of calmness.
“The PNS, also known as rest and digest, calms the body down by bringing the heart and breath rates back to normal. When our breath is steady, so is our mind,” say Berg. “As we control and shape our breath, we are able to physically affect our brain’s control regions to help regulate blood pressure, emotional control, improve memory and so much more.”
With these next two breathing exercises, you will become aware of how they relax not only our body physically, but mentally as well, says Berg.
*Deep sigh. A deep sigh is your body-brain’s natural way to release tension and reset your nervous system. Simply breathe in fully through the nose, then audibly sigh, breathing out longer on the exhale. Deep sighs return the mind and body back to a more balanced parasympathetic state.
*1:2 Breath. Through the nose, inhale to a count or 3 or 4 and exhale twice as long. One of the primary reasons that breathing techniques foster a long, smooth exhale are so beneficial is because they can support the PNS, reducing stress and its effects on your body and mind.
“By practicing intentional breathing for 10-20 minutes each morning you can anchor yourself into a calming, clarifying brain-body technique that can then be used quickly, in a matter of 30 seconds or less, to help you recharge throughout the day as needed,” adds Hanna.
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