The Power of Deep Breathing

By Priscilla Guzman

If you’re reading this your breathing, an action that we don’t think twice about because it is a natural instinct. The power of being able to control this breathing can have a greater effect on our lives than we think. When we see someone feeling overwhelmed or having a rough time our immediate response is to say “Just Breathe” or “Relax” but what does this actually look like? What does it actually feel like? Deep breathing can benefit all ages from toddlers all the way to older adults. 

What is deep breathing?

Deep breathing is a slow focused breath that can benefit your mood in many ways. This can help calm your thoughts after a long day, help you through moments of difficulty or even help a toddler that is feeling overwhelmed with their emotions.  From parents to teens to toddlers, deep breathing can benefit all. Deep breathing can be beneficial to help cope with daily life stressors, when feeling overwhelmed, anxious, filled with high energy, or even if you need to relax to go to sleep.  The best time to start practicing deep breathing is when you are in a calm state so you can focus on your breath or when you are getting ready for bed. 

Deep breathing not only has mental health benefits it can also help lower your blood pressure and heart rate. By helping your body get back to a rest and relax mode, deep breathing allows you to get more oxygen into your bloodstream. Breathing is essential to life because our bodies require oxygen to function; moving your muscles, digesting food, are all body processes that require oxygen. Breathing also helps the body get rid of carbon dioxide, which is created as a waste product of these processes. When you are breathing normally you may not be fully providing your body with the oxygen it needs. For example if you are a shallow breather this may put your body in distress unintentionally or the stress can be causing the shallow breathing. 

What is Shallow Breathing? 

Shallow breathing is the action of not bringing in enough oxygen needed into our bodies. This can be seens when we are inhaling with our mouth or holding our breaths or breathing with our chest rather than our diaphragm. When we breathe shallowly this keeps our body in a cycle of stress causing shallow breathing and our shallow breathing causing stress.  Shallow breathing can lower lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that helps to defend the body from invading organisms. The body becomes susceptible to contracting illnesses, aggravating pre-existing medical conditions, and prolonging healing times. It can also cause panic attacks. When we breathe with our chests, we use the muscles in our shoulders, necks, and chests to expand our lungs, which can result in neck pain, headaches, and an increased risk of injury.

Abdominal vs. Chest Breathing

If you want to see a great example of abdominal breathing, you can look at a newborn. During infancy we naturally breathe using our diaphragm, the muscle under our lungs, to pull air into our lungs. When actively deep breathing you will see an infant’s belly expand and chest rise as they inhale through the nose into the lungs and as they exhale their belly contracts. As infants begin to grow and become more active, they shift from belly breathers to breathing with their chest. Chest breathing is able to bring oxygen into the body, but the breath tends to be shorter and shallower. For most daily breaths you can see movement in the chest but not in the abdominal.  

Abdominal breathing starts in the nose and moves to the stomach as the diaphragm contracts, causing the belly to expand and the lungs to fill with air. When breathing with your diaphragm this allows your lungs to be pulled down to allow more oxygen to flow in. 

Deep Breathing Exercises: 

It is important to be in a comfortable position when practicing deep breathing, this can be laying down or sitting upright while having your back, shoulders and neck supported by the back of a chair. Place one hand on your chest and one on your belly. Breathe in through your nose and let your belly fill with air while you count to about four in your head. Breathe out through your nose. Try to make your exhale a second or two longer than your inhale. As you breathe in, feel your belly rise. As you breathe out, feel your belly lower. The hand on your belly should move more than the one that’s on your chest. Practice this for about six to ten breaths. 

Another breathing exercise is lions breathe which can help alleviate stress, eliminate toxins and stimulate your throat and upper chest. The action of the lion’s breath can also help relax tension in the neck and facial muscles. Find a comfortable seating position on a chair or on the floor and lean slightly forward resting your hands and spreading your fingers wide on your knees or floor. Inhale from your nose then open your mouth wide sticking out your tongue towards your chin. Exhale forcefully bringing the air across your tongue. While exhaling, make a “ha” sound that comes deep from your abdomen. Repeat up to seven times and end with some deep breathing.

Rainbow Breathing

This is for the busy parent who is looking to get some deep breathing in with their child. This is a fun way to practice deep breathing where you both can greatly benefit from. Have your child place their finger on a white dot. Trace the arrow around the rainbow and take a deep breath in. Pause at the end of the color. Trace the next arrow and breathe out. Continue around the rainbow several times. 

There are so many ways that you can practice deep breathing, find what is most comfortable for you. There is no wrong way to practice deep breathing just to ensure that you are able to inhale and exhale at a slow place. If you are looking to work on dealing with daily life stressors, anxiety or even being able to relax your body after a long day you are in the right place. Finding a healthy way to relax your body in times of stress is a key to living a fulfilled life. Book an appointment with me so we can find the best deep breathing exercise for you.