Have you ever been in a situation where someone told you to "stop and breathe"? Think about how you felt in that moment and what you were doing. Maybe you felt anxious, nervous, worried, or stressed out. Did anything change when you focused on your breathing?
Breathing deeply has been used successfully to calm our minds, decrease tension, and lower our stress levels. With regular use, it's also been shown to:
- Improve digestion
- Lower heart rate
- Lower blood pressure
- Improve resistance to stress
- Improve sleep and restfulness of sleep
- Increase alertness
- Lower cortisol (the “stress” hormone!)
The thing is, when we first try deep breathing, we usually focus on the part where we breathe in - the inhalation. But the real magic is when we breathe OUT - the exhalation!
Essentially, slow exhalations get us out of the amped-up “Fight or Flight” mode where hearts race and minds are hard to focus. Exhaling slowly sets us up for the calming “Rest and Digest” mode where we feel more even-keeled and less anxious. The great thing about this type of breathing is that it works rather quickly, and it's always available to us.
4-7-8 Breathing Exercise
Here's an exercise I learned at a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reductionintensive in Toronto. It's one of my favourites for teaching to busy patients because it only takes 45 seconds.
Start by breathing out as much air as you can, for about 6-10 seconds.
- Inhale (breathe in) through your nose for 4 counts
- Hold your breath for 7 counts
- Slowly exhale (breathe out) through pursed lips for 8 counts
- Repeat steps 1-4, for a total of 3 cycles
- Pursed lips - think of it like slowly letting air out of a balloon
- First try this exercise seated as it is normal to feel a bit lightheaded when you begin
- After you become comfortable doing this over a few days, you can try slowly adding in more cycles
- When to use this exercise:
- When you have trouble falling asleep or you've woken up and can't get back to sleep
- When you feel rushed, anxious, stressed, or upset
- Before a meal, to optimize digestion
- Great for children to calm down their energy or get ready for bed
If you'd like to speak with Dr. Kamala, ND you can book a complimentary 15 minute consult today!