Breathing Exercises to Combat Stress

Looking for some good breathing exercises?

If you ever feel that stress just might get the better of you, then you've got to proactively seek out some stress relief techniques. Breathing exercises are one popular, easy, and effective way to relieve your anxieties.

We've all heard the expression, "easy as breathing." Now let's stop and think about what it means:

It is simply the inhalation of the air around you. You do this to get the oxygen necessary to power your body. And it must be followed by exhalation, which rids you of the unwanted carbon dioxide in the air that you just breathed in.

So you take in air, use the oxygen, and expel the carbon dioxide. Simple, right?

Learning How to Breath Better

There are ways to enhance your breathing patterns so that you actually learn how to combat stress. In order to understand how this happens, you have to become familiar with how the thoracic diaphragm works.

The diaphragm is a muscle that runs across your body at the bottom of your ribs, below your lungs. When you breathe in, the diaphragm contracts, and you have more space in your upper body, or thorax, so that your lungs can draw in more air.

The diaphragm can even pull in air by itself. If you feel for this muscle about two inches about your navel and contract it, you'll notice that this movement causes the lungs to suck in air automatically. This is from the vacuum created by the contraction of the muscle. Relaxing the muscle will push air out of the lungs.

Students of yoga believe that exerting control over your breathing is the first step toward advancing your consciousness. The theory is that control over your breathing is actually the first connection to link your body with your mind. This technique is called pranayama, and experts can achieve very high levels of consciousness.

Breathing Techniques as an Aid for Therapy

Psychologists utilize controlled breathing techniques in something called guided imagery. The practitioner will put the patient into a relaxed setting, with lowered lights and perhaps soft music. First they will steer you to a relaxed level of breathing. Then they will tell you to imagine an orange, for instance, and some patients become so receptive to this relaxation technique that they will actually smell an orange and begin to salivate.

But for purposes of stress relief, it's really much simpler. Think about what you do when you are stressed out: In most cases, you hold your breath. Sometimes, you breathe too rapidly, which actually causes hyperventilation.

Hyperventilation leads to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in your body, and from that you'll feel dizzy or faint, weak, confused, and agitated. Ultimately, it can lead to panic.

Breathing Techniques to Feel Better

If you're a chronic poor breather, you might experience symptoms such as constant fatigue, headaches, a feeling of tightness in the chest, insomnia, muscle aches and twitches, numbness in your lips or limbs, and-yes, regular feelings of panic. These symptoms occur from imbalances of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and you are also causing sudden drops in your calcium level as well as increases in blood pressure.

So it's beneficial to develop controlled breathing exercises as a response to stress. Many of us forget the best way to breathe, just like we forget to practice good posture. Develop strong diaphragmatic breathing with this exercise:

  • Lie flat on your back. Put one hand on your breastbone. Put one hand below your ribcage. If you like, you can put a pillow under your head and one under your knees for comfort.

  • Inhale slowly through your nose. The hand on your breastbone should not move. Only the hand below the ribcage should move. Your shoulders should remain still.

  • Contract your stomach muscles and feel how the air is expelled. The hand on your breastbone still doesn't move.

You can try this lying down and graduate to a sitting position, or just try it sitting up:

  • Sit comfortably with your hands in the same position.

  • Women can practice this with the bra on, because the pectoral muscles and breast tissue can be a distraction from feeling how your diaphragm works.

  • Keep your posture relaxed and comfortable, but you do have to be upright.

  • Breathe in and out the same as above.

As correct diaphragmatic breathing becomes second nature, you'll find that you can respond better during times of stress.

Practice inhaling your breath slowly, holding it for about three seconds, and expelling it slowly. You will notice that a side benefit of these breathing exercises is an improvement in your general posture.

Some people enhance their relaxation by forcing air out through their pursed lips. Pursed lip breathing enables you to get rid of stale air pockets in your lungs, and it keeps your airways open longer.

It was developed as a technique for patients with asthma or other lung disease, but it does relieve stress. The slow, purposeful exhalation slows down rapid breathing so you can calm down.

Conclusions on Breathing Exercises

Once you have reached a level of comfort with these breathing exercises, you'll be able to utilize them automatically whenever you encounter stress. Relief of your fears and physical symptoms can come if you take a few minutes to purposefully breathe in and out the correct way.

Consciously tell yourself to breathe in, hold it for a count of three, and push it out from the diaphragm through pursed lips.

Arm yourself with the confidence that learning this technique will help you to attain excellent stress relief, as well as better posture and lung capacity!

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