3 Best Breathing Exercises to reduce anxiety, stress, pain and help relaxation
The best way to reduce anxiety, panic attacks, and calm the nerves is to catch your breath with dedicated breathing exercises.
If you have ever felt nervous or stressed and caught yourself holding your breath or if you have ever felt you can't catch your breath, you can use these breathing exercises to calm yourself down and relax.
So let's start with what knocks breathing ‘out'. Stress and emotion is usually the commonest reason.
What Happens To Our Breathing When We Are Stressed?
Stress can profoundly affect our breathing patterns. It affects our muscles and blood vessels in a way one may not appreciate without specialist knowledge.
As muscles around the neck and chest tighten during stress, it may reduce the ability of the ribs to fully stretch open to get a good breath. Similarly as the nerve supply to the diaphragm comes from the neck, tension in the neck can also tighten the diaphragm. These will make it harder for you to get a good breath.
Tight Blood Vessels
Blood vessels (arteries) have muscles too. An increase in tension can also make the blood vessel muscles contract. This reduces the amount of blood capable of passing through as the blood vessel narrows. To compensate the heart pumps harder to force the blood through. This is the commonest cause of high blood pressure – among other symptoms.
Stress affects the muscles we can see and the ones we can't. The good news is these muscles can be relaxed by regular breathing exercises. Breathing exercises can help at many levels, including helping with the body mechanics such as muscle health, the circulatory system, and the mind. They are all connected by, and respond to, breathing exercises.
How Breathing Exercises Reduces Anxiety, Stress, Pain and Encourages Relaxation
Breathing Boosts Muscle Relaxation
When we are deeply out of breath, ie through normal exercise, we breathe with our stomach, chest, and neck. So, we use all the muscles of our spine to try and suck oxygen into our lungs. Working our voluntary muscles in this way helps them to relax – a big like stretching first thing in the morning to ease tight “sleeping” muscles.
Breathing exercises also helps to relax our involuntary muscles. These includes the heart, the rib muscles, diaphragm and the wider circulatory system. As muscles and nerves are connected to each other, it also helps relax the nervous system.
Breathing Boosts Blood Flow
When tissues work harder than normal, toxins (waste products) are released including carbon dioxide. Amazingly carbon dioxide, as a waste product, causes blood vessels to widen, encouraging fresh blood to flow in. Once a richer supply of blood has been established, carbon dioxide works again to speeds up the movement of oxygen from the blood flow deep into needy tissues – it's a double win.
It is for this reason why so many breathing exercises require you to hold your breath between breath cycles. This helps to build up carbon dioxide. There are many variations of these breathing exercises, but they all use the same principle.
Benefits of Breathing Exercises
Correctly done breathing exercises can help to lower blood pressure, improve circulation, improve concentration, help with sleep and memory. It is particularly good at helping with chronic breathing complaints such as asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary airways disease such as bronchitis). Above all, and for all of us, regular breathing exercises is great for mental and physical relaxation
3 Best Breathing Exercises
These are my top three breathing exercises delivering muscle and blood health benefits. Along with my “gratitude journal” each night, I end with breathing exercise 3.
Breathing Exercises 1: “Cardio Exercises”
The simplest exercise of all is to get out of breath. As you can see in the video when a person gets heavily out of breath the body uses additional muscles to boost breathing. This includes not just the chest muscles, but also the neck and stomach muscles. Working more muscles produces a greater relaxation effect, aside of which it will help to ‘get you breath back'.
Breathing Exercise 2: “Filling The Balloon”
This exercise is to help free tight spinal muscles. In this exercise imagine a long balloon is being filled from deep within the pelvic bowl all the way up into the neck. Close one nostril and draw a deep breath in and imagine the air filling the balloon and as you do so you will feel these areas starting to expand. Notice it expanding front to back and side to side, as the balloon fills upward to the neck. You may repeat this on the other side. This exercise can lead to hyperventilation and make you dizzy, so do not do more than twice on each side.
Breathing Exercise 3: “Box Breathing”
This is a very simple breathing exercise to help raise carbon dioxide, encouraging more life-giving (and life-healing) oxygen into the body.
Everything is done to a count of four. Simply breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, breath out for four seconds, wait for four seconds. Repeat. When you first start you may only be able to do it twice, but as you get better it will increase as your body is able to load up more carbon dioxide, and so therefore oxygen.
It's a basic human instinct to understand our bodies better. Everything about the body is connected and influenced by our breath, the breath of life. From a simple touch, to physical pain, to healthy biological functions, to emotional wellbeing, at every level, the breath is the central powerhouse of it all.
It is needed not just for life but also for quality of life.
Breathing exercises are often the overlooked ingredient of a healthy life. It is worth spending at least one minute daily, looking after your breath. Think of it as a unique body-part, that needs special attention, like you would when you brush your teeth or exercise your muscles. It is literally the breath of life.
Vispi Jamooji DO PG Cert SPOP
Registered Osteopath (London, 1986)
Specialist Paediatric Osteopath & Cranial Osteopath
Living Centre Clinic
32 Durham Road, Raynes Park, London SW20 0TW
020 8946 2331