If you follow my YouTube videos, you will have heard me tell you time and again to “take a nice deep breath in, and taaaaaake your tiiiiiiime to breathe out! But why would you want to change your breathing? You’re getting air into your lungs perfectly well – why does it matter how you do it?
To experience the difference for yourself, try taking a few breaths into the top part of your chest – put your hands there to feel the movement and make sure this is where you’re sending air – to the higher end of your chest. What do you notice? Your breathing is probably shallow and fast right now. This is how we breathe when we feel in danger – real or perceived. It’s how you breathe when your brain is preparing you for action, making your heart beat fast, raising your blood pressure, making you sweat – and trying to keep you alive.
Are you feeling anxious yet? Good! It’s working! Unless there’s a crocodile on the prowl in your garden, though, we can try breathing a little deeper now. Put your hands lower down, on your ribcage, and breathe into this area – see how far you can make your ribs expand. Breathing like this, lower down into your chest, is providing you with more oxygen, and allowing you to get rid of more carbon dioxide with each breath. That’s already much better!
Now rest your hands on your tummy, just below your belly button. See how far you can push them out with each inbreath – and when you breathe out, imagine you could squeeze them in all the way to your spine! Most importantly, keep the outbreaths long – longer than it takes you to breathe in. After a while, you will notice that you feel calmer. It’s not just your imagination either – at a physiological level, you are slowing down. Those long outbreaths are activating your parasympathetic nervous system, putting you into “rest and digest” mode. You’re giving your brain the signal that all is well, and your body follows suit.
You might have heard of “7-11 breathing” or even “4-7-8”, and while these are certainly effective, you don’t really need to worry about counting, or whether you’re doing it right: as long as your outbreaths are longer than your inbreaths, you are changing your state from stress and anxiety to mind and body calm.