Conscious breathing ignites the relaxation response, which triggers physiological changes in our bodies.
Stress comes in many varieties and at some point in time, we’ve all experienced the type of stress that triggers the fight-or-flight response, which in turn activates the sympathetic nervous system.
Breathwork can help improve the efficiency of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is essential for post-workout recovery, and unilateral exercise can help improve balance, coordination and movement efficiency, all of which are key for effective corrective exercise programs. When you improve your parasympathetic tone (i.e., the degree to which the parasympathetic nervous system is “in charge”), the more your physiological, psychological, and neurological systems work like they should. You feel better, think clearer and act more rationally.
"One of the best and most accessible tools we can use to decrease stress is to connect with the breath."
A Simple Mindful Deep Breathing Exercise
Give the following technique a try:
Find a quiet, comfortable place. If neither of these are available, get as comfortable as possible. Lie down, sit or stand. The less work your body and brain have to do to keep you upright and alert, the better.
Close your eyes. Humans are highly responsive to visual stimuli. Closing your eyes cuts out distraction.
Place a hand just above your navel and one on the center of your chest.
Close your mouth. Breathing through the nose warms, moistens and cleans air before it hits the sensitive tissue in your lungs, and it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system.
Begin by taking a deep breath in through your nose. Attempt to breathe in for a 4-count. The exact count is not important initially; it is merely a metric to reinforce breath control.
As you breathe in, focus on your belly expanding against your hand. Belly expansion reinforces the proper mechanics of your diaphragm to fully fill your lungs with air.
Your chest should rise only slightly, and only after the belly has fully expanded.
Be conscious to not allow the shoulders to rise, the head to neck to strain or any other tension-related action.
Breathe out through either the nose or the mouth for another 4-count.
Continue this breathing tempo and depth for 60 seconds.
Attempt to focus primarily on the sound of air coming into your nose and out through your mouth or nose.
After this exercise, take a personal inventory. How do you feel physically, mentally and emotionally? Whether you call it mindful breathing, meditation or just relaxation, consider where you may be able to take seconds, minutes or even longer to make it part of your daily life.