Whether you are exercising, meditating, or just sitting at your desk, making sure you are breathing properly has a major impact on your health. And one of the unique things about breathing is that although it is done by the autonomic nervous system (involuntarily) it can also be regulated voluntarily.
Scientific studies have shown that controlling your breath can help to manage stress and stress-related conditions. When we feel stressed or anxious, our breathing pattern changes >>> involuntarily we take small, shallow breaths, using our shoulders rather than our diaphragm to move air in and out of our lungs. Shallow, upper chest breathing is part of the stress response. This style of breathing disrupts the balance of gases in the body.
Shallow over-breathing, or hyperventilation, can prolong feelings of anxiety by making the physical symptoms of stress worse. Controlling your breathing can help to improve some of these symptoms.
When we are relaxed, we breathe through our nose in a slow, even and gentle way. To that end, we can shut down the autonomic stress response of shallow breathing and deliberately copy a relaxed breathing pattern to calm the nervous system that controls the body’s involuntary functions.
This can be done with abdominal breathing and can be done whenever you notice your breath has become short and more rapid. There are many ways to do this type of breathing and it will be different, if you are exercising versus sitting at your desk or meditating. But the benefits are the same! In essence, the general aim is to shift from upper chest breathing to abdominal breathing.
Controlling your breath helps control your nervous system and encourages your body to relax, bringing about a range of health benefits. The physiological changes include:
lowered blood pressure
lowered heart rate
reduced levels of stress hormones in the blood
reduced lactic acid build-up in muscle tissue
balanced levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood
improved immune system functioning
increased physical energy
increased feelings of calm and wellbeing.
The next time you notice you are breathing shallow or short, take a moment to switch your breathing pattern, your overall health and well-being will feel the benefit!