Most of us don’t give any thought to how we breathe during our lives. We may take hundreds of millions of breaths in a typical lifetime, but almost all these are automatic. Our nervous system handles this without our need to think about it.
Breathing is interesting. We control it both in a conscious and unconscious manner. This provides an interesting opportunity.
Breathing is a bridge between what we can control consciously and unconsciously. So we can access many other bodily functions that we do not typically have access to.
We can start to control our nervous system.
For instance, you cannot think your way to a slower heartbeat. But, you can control your breathing in a manner that results in your heartbeat slowing down. This is because the various systems of the body are all interconnected. Another example of this is that you change the PH of your blood via breathing. This is because different types of breathing alter the ratio between oxygen and CO2. Within minutes, you can make your blood more acidic or alkaline.
So, today’s notes are about three simple breathing tricks that can be useful in everyday life:
- Balanced Breathing
- Relaxed Breathing
- Stimulation Breathing
As the name implies, you can use this at any time, all day long. You cannot do too much of this type of breathing exercise. In fact, if you can train yourself to breathe in this way without thinking, you’ll experience a lot of benefits.
It is very simple. You breathe through your nose for a count of 4 in, a slight pause, and then 4 counts out, a slight pause, and then repeat.
That’s it. We are aiming for 6-8 breaths per minute, which is half of the usual breathing rate. This will have the effect of making you feel calm, collected, and in control.
Interestingly, if you meditate, this is a good breathing pace during most types of meditation.
So remember: Breathe with the nose, and 4 counts in, 4 counts out.
This type of breathing can be primarily used as a sleeping aid. That said, you should not overuse this during the day.
You can use this whenever you are feeling anxious. After ten rounds of this type of breathing you will notice certain changes. Your heart rate starts to drop, your blood pressure drops, and you stimulate your parasympathetic system. This is the “rest and digest” side of your nervous system.
You’ll start feeling relaxed and tired. If you are doing this breathing exercise for long enough while you’re in bed, you’ll likely fall asleep.
As with Balanced Breathing, this is also very simple. Breath through the nose, 4 counts in, a slight pause, 8 counts out, a slight pause, and then repeat.
This imbalance between the amount of time you are breathing in vs breathing out causes your CO2 levels in your body to rise. This which causes lots of hormonal and physiological changes that help you relax.
Use this only in the evenings when you are trying to relax or go to sleep, or when you feel anxious. This is not an all-day type of breathing like Balanced Breathing.
As the name implies, this method of breathing helps you get stimulated, to wake you up. It is the breathing equivalent of taking a shot of espresso.
Very much like drinking coffee, you can overdo it with this method and you’ll screw over your body. This is because this breathing method will stimulate your fight or flight response. Your heart rate will go up, your blood pressure increases, and it triggers various hormonal changes.
This is best reserved when you are waking up, before an important event. This can be a speech, a long drive, or when you need to focus on something important.
This technique is somewhat different from the above two techniques. For those techniques, we focussed on breathing in and out. For Stimulation Breathing, we focus on the exhale. It feels much like a sneeze, you push out all your breath using your stomach. Repeat it as fast as you can twenty times, then take a short break. Repeat this cycle two more times for a total of sixty breaths,
It’s no accident that ancient traditions place a strong emphasis on breathing techniques. There have been studies of various prayers across all the major religions, and they produce a certain type of breathing pattern. Ignoring the mystical aspects, there are real-world scientific reasons why we want to focus on our breathing to improve the quality of our life.
Many of us breathe far too quickly day in and day out, and this keeps up agitated. Our fight or flight response ends up on all-day alert. This can have awful health consequences.
If you want to learn more about breathing, I recommend the book “Breath” by James Nestor. You can also look into “The Wim Hof Method”.