Breathing matters and we often don’t do it well.
As adults, we are often breath holders, jaw clenchers, shallow breathers …seemingly always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Often other people will ask, ‘Are you ok?’ after we sigh for the 10th time that day. (FYI sighing (when you aren’t upset!) is often a sign that you have been holding your breath.)
So what happens in our bodies when we hold our breath?
Breathing is this pretty vital process that ideally we wouldn’t have to put any thought into. However, stress can change how you breathe and, because so many of us walk around with such high stress levels, this stressed pattern of breathing becomes our norm. Guess what, a stressed breathing pattern (breath holding, clenching, shallow breath, chronic sighing) amps up our stress response making things worse! These stressed breathing patterns throw off the balance of oxygen into our body and carbon dioxide out of our body. This imbalance sends signals to our brain to prepare us to run, hide or flee. Helpful if there is actual danger. But, keeping us in a chronically high stress response if there actually isn’t any danger!
Perhaps you recognize in yourself one of these stressed breathing patterns. Now what do you do about it?
The good news is, after you recognize the problem there are very effective ways to learn how to reclaim your breath! Functional breathing is one solution. Functional breathing is the process of balancing your inhalations (oxygen in) and exhalations (carbon dioxide out) in a way that takes you out of a state of stress and overwhelm. There are also other breath techniques that can move you from a balanced state into a relaxed state. Such as breath techniques used in yoga and meditation.
Let’s start with balance.
Utilizing your breath to move from a stressed, overwhelmed state to a more balanced state of improved focus and flow drops your stress hormones and allows your brain and body to function at their highest potential. Memory, mood, and mental and physical performance can all improve when you breath in a way that drops stress. Practicing a breath technique that brings balance to your nervous system also helps create a new baseline for your stress response. You become able to respond more appropriately to the stressor at hand in place of functioning in a chronically hypervigilant and overwhelmed state.
So let’s give functional breathing a try.
Functional Breathing Basics:
- Practice for 3-5 minutes each day at a time when you will not fall asleep.
- Check in with your breath with your hands on your chest and belly.
- If not belly breathing (meaning your belly is not moving when you breathe), raise your arms over your head for several breaths to help activate belly breathing.
- Gently breath in and out through your nose with your exhalations slightly longer than your inhalations.
- Tip: Rest the tip of your tongue on the back of your upper teeth to relax your jaw and neck muscles.
- Integrate functional breathing into your day-to-day
- Take 2-3 of these functional breaths just before a stressful event that happens most days.
- Then practice this breath technique throughout a stressful event to really help it stick.
- Multiple free apps exist that can help prompt and support your breath practice.
- BreatheEasy, Breathe+, Breakwrk, and iBreathe are some free examples for your smart phone.
If you would like a little more guidance, click on this link to sign up for access to my Breakthrough Breathing video. In the video, I walk you through a functional breathing technique and we get to breathe together!
Adding in functional breathing when you are working to reduce your stress and reclaim your energy can be a real game changer. Just by breathing as your body was designed, you drop your stress hormone levels, can clear your mind of the busy, and find the space and energy to focus on what you actually care about!
- Dr. Emily Livengood