You’re pretty good at breathing, right?
I mean, you’ve been doing it for years. You do it about 18 times per minutes which means around 25,920 times a day. You’re so good at it that most of the time, you can do it without even thinking about it!
The problem is that most of us don’t do it efficiently. If everything is OK, it’s not a big deal. But when you start having health issues, anxiety issues, or want to perform better in physical activities, optimising your breathing can have a major positive impact.
Do a quick test. Take a nice big deep breath right now. Go on. If you found that you’re breathing from the top of your lungs, your shoulders rising, you’re in the majority.
Now try this: keep your shoulders relaxed, put a hand on your chest and a hand on your stomach. As you breathe in, let your abdomen (stomach) expand while your chest remains relatively still.
This will allow you to get in more air in, with less tension in your chest and shoulders. You’ll also involve your core muscles in a gentle and continuous fashion. By taking in oxygen more efficiently, you’ll perform better. That’s why proper breathing is important in sport and martial. It’s also useful if you want to project your voice for public speaking or singing.
How is this useful when dealing with anxiety?
Unconsciously, your brain will adapt your heart rate and breathing pace according to what it perceives is required. In a fight-or-flight situation, your heart rate goes up and your breathing gets faster. In panic attacks, it goes into overdrive: just imagine someone hyperventilating and you’ll get the idea. Even without going that far, anxiety will often cause you to have shallow breathing and a fast pulse.
Few people can directly control their heart, but most of us can consciously control our breathing. If you get your breath back into a calm rhythm, your brain will also calm down. Also, focusing on your breathing distracts you from those pesky anxious thoughts for a while, just enough to regain control.
Just like any physical skills, it takes practice but it’s easy to become good at it.
Here are two types of exercises that you can easily do:
Power Breathing: basically, breathing from the abdomen. Exhale for slightly longer than you inhale in a controlled, but not forced, fashion (more detailed explanations here: https://www.hgi.org.uk/resources/delve-our-extensive-library/resources-and-techniques/7-11-breathing-how-does-deep ).
Box Breathing: again, breathing from the abdomen, inhale for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds. (more details here: https://www.healthline.com/health/box-breathing).
Simple, free, and good for you.