Deep breathing and normal breathing are worlds apart. While normal breathing happens autonomously and most of the time unconsciously, deep breathing must be forced to happen. How can you relax to reduce stress by forcing the breathing? In my seminars on breathing movements and strategies that cover philosophical and psychological aspects of breath, deep breathing is not forced but gently activated, in a way controlled.((Harvard Medical School: Relaxation techniques – breath control))
Gently activating breathing is crucial and effective element which you’ll experience in the breathing exercises that follow. But before we begin, let’s start with some facts and numbers about breathing, to better visualize the structure of the exercises and connect to deep breathing easier.
The adult’s normal breathing (tidal volume) is about ½ liter of air and that is only about 10% of the total lung capacity (TLC) which is some 5 ½ – 6 liters of air.((Science Direct: Lung Capacity)) That means that, there is about ten times more volume in the lungs which can be activated through deep breathing.
The fact that we have the tenfold capacity of air in our lungs brings us to the idea and purpose of deep breathing. We apply deep breathing technique because we want to reach the vital capacity of the lungs. The vital capacity (VC) is the sum of the expiration reserve volume (ERC) + tidal volume (TV) + inspirational reserve volume (IRV) as shown on the picture below:
That’s why deep breathing is good for you – it supplies oxygen throughout the total lung capacity (TLC) thus, strengthens the cardiovascular system and the nervous system among other bodily systems((Harvard Medical School: Interval Training)) but under one condition: make your progress go slowly and your deep breathing also slowly. The effect is physical and mental health.
Here let’s learn about the 3 deep breathing exercises that can help you feel better:
You can do this first deep breathing exercises wherever you are sitting steadily and comfortably. Even if you feel distressed, it’s fine, you will get stabilized as you perform the exercise. The timing of the tidal volume (TV) of half a liter of air would be about 1.5 to 2 seconds for performing the inhalation and about the same for the exhalation.
Now we will extend the exhalation to 6 seconds, using the tidal volume + expiratory reserve volume:
Did you know that stress negatively influences attention performance?((Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience: The influence of acute stress on attention mechanisms and its electrophysiological correlates))
Paying close attention to deep exhalation is the recipe for relaxation. While performing this exercise, there are no stressors that can agitate your nervous system or aggravate you, because your attention is focused on your exhalation. With this breathing exercise, you reduce your breathing frequency from the normal approximate 20 breaths per minute down to 6 breaths per minute.
This way you exhale the air from the lower part of the lungs which normally isn’t recirculated. The substantial reduction of breaths results in calming of the nervous system and delivers the following benefits:
Do this deep breathing exercise at least three times a day for five minutes! I will give a few more tips for the optimal workout of all three deep breathing exercises at the end of the article.
Let’s move forward to the next deep breathing exercise. In this significant exercise, we’ll focus on a very valuable moment – building up energy through inhalation. The energy is a crucial physiological value for the development of anything. This exercise must be performed on empty stomach. Get ready, stand up on your feet and:
Once you’ve reached step 8, repeat this deep breathing movement (on empty stomach) for only (and slowly, in order to prevent hyperventilation) five minutes at the beginning. Create your own rhythm (speed and depth) of breathing. Your energy and vitality will significantly improve.
There are two kinds of deep breathing: slow and fast. I put slow first because it cannot hurt you, it’s safe, soothing and peaceful. It is of meditative nature: subtle, profound and insightful. The fast breathing is of aerobic nature: invigorating, reviving and energetic.
This doesn’t mean that you cannot experience characteristics from the fast breathing when breathing slow or the other way around. When you advance with the deep breathing exercises, you’ll be able to experience all physical and mental energies.
Some of them (like creativity or patience for example) will appear not as intense as others, but through constantly practicing this breathing, you will feel their intensity increase. The two main benefits of deep breathing are:
All other benefits come out of these two. To be insightful and intuitive, you must be patient and observant; and patience and observance develop through peacefulness. To be resilient and versatile, you must be strong and flexible; and strength and flexibility develop through vitality.
Another great benefit from this deep breathing exercise is that it’s a valuable tool to deal with depression and overcome anxiety in case you experience moments of depressive state of mind. These tools for which I write extensively in my book About the Power of Breath, deliver a systematic mental approach with effective results.
The third deep breathing exercise is about experimenting, experiencing and becoming the expert of your breathing.
Combine the first breathing exercise with the second one and create rhythm of breathing that will harmonize your relaxation and vitality. This time, don’t count but just connect 100% with the flow of your breath:
Balanced combination of this deep breathing is how you reduce stress, relax and energize your body and mind. Advancing with this breathing technique, you start to develop all mental skills you want to achieve. And in the meantime:
Is there such a thing as the best breathing exercise?
If I tell you that the best breathing exercise is the “4-7-8 Breathing Technique,” would you agree? Many people think of it as the best breathing exercise for sleep: inhale counting to 4, retain the breath counting to 7 and exhale counting to 8.
And indeed this breathing pattern calms so much to the point of falling asleep pretty quickly. That’s a great benefit but, in our case here, we don’t want to merely fall asleep with a deep breathing exercise – we want to learn how to relax, build up energy and reduce stress in the midst of our dynamic daily life.
Although the question for the best breathing exercise is too general and relative, I am happy to tell you that we have the right answer here:
The best breathing exercise is the one that suits you the best according to your present state of being. So I encourage you to experiment with the deep breathing techniques above and find the best rhythm for you.
You’re probably wondering (as my students and clients do): How long and how often this deep breathing has to be practiced in order to be effective?
Physiologically, the effect is immediate, you can feel the relaxation in your body instantly after the first effortless deep exhalation.
Mentally, it is impossible to give the right answer as it depends on your present mental outlook. For each one of us, the effect and result would be different. The truth is, the more you repeat the deep breathing, the more mental energies you will identify and less sensitive you’ll be to stress.
If you’re a beginner, develop a rhythm and alternatively, create a routine by doing the exercises in the morning right after waking up, before lunch and before going to sleep, each one for five minutes (15 minutes all together). Once you have adapted to this rhythm, you can double the repetition and also the timing (making it 30 minutes 6 times a day). Just do it everywhere and any time.
Do this for a month and you’ll be amazed by the improvement of your energy and your confidence .
Personally, I do it literally all the time. My deep breathing has become my normal breathing.
Breathing – the ultimate life force, bestows you with health, beauty and joy. Breathe deeply, consciously and lovingly and, you’ll get the rhythm of peacefulness and vitality which will eliminate stress entirely. I salute the spirit in you!