The benefits of deep breathing exercises are abundant for our physical, mental, and spiritual health. For starters, it is non-toxic, costs us absolutely nothing, requires no prescriptions, equipment, visits to the doctor or health food store, and is available to you at all times.
Deep breathing is about the most natural and holistic self-care strategy you can find and the single most effective, beneficial technique we can use to relieve pain, stress, and anxiety, achieve overall relaxation, and help restore balance to the autonomic nervous system.
It produces soothing, relaxing, and pleasure-inducing alpha brainwaves that calm the excitatory neurotransmitters and stress response system and thus relieve anxiety and stress instantly. These alpha brain waves also stimulate the release of beta-endorphins, the body’s built-in natural pain reliever, increase Gaba levels, and stimulate creativity as well.
Most of us never stop and think about what an amazing thing our breath is. It is something we take for granted. It’s so simple and intrinsic to living that we never give it a second thought and most of us are unaware that we don’t know how to breathe properly or that the breath can be used as a powerful tool for improving our health.
When you don’t breathe properly, your body does not receive adequate amounts of oxygen. This depletes your energy, allows toxins to accumulate, weakens your immune system, clouds your head, triggers excitatory neurotransmitters, and disconnects you from your spirituality.
How to Breathe for Benefits
Before you can acquire the benefits of deep breathing exercises, it is important to learn how to breathe in a manner that promotes health. We are taught at an early age to suck in our stomachs and puff out our chests and many people breathe through their mouth instead of their nose. This is in complete contradiction to healthy breathing. Deep breathing exercises that teach us to be more conscious of our breathing will help us unlearn these bad habits.
We should breathe through our noses, with our mouths closed, and pull from the belly, not the chest.
Breathing through your mouth increases the charge of energy and facilitates the discharge of emotions. You may have noticed that when you are upset that you breathe heavy sighs out through your mouth. This is not bad during those times, because it helps expel the emotions, but it isn’t a state you want to remain in consistently. Breathing through your nose keeps the charge of energy in check, increasing control and slowing your metabolism.
To breathe properly, when you inhale your abdomen should protrude, not your chest. When you exhale, your abdomen should flatten.
When you breathe in, you should breathe in slowly through the nose, not the mouth, until the lungs are almost full. When you exhale, it should be slow until almost all air is expelled, and through the nose.
Each breath should be through the nose: deep, complete, long, and slow.
Place your hands on your abdomen, if they rise and fall with each breath, then you are breathing correctly.
Basic Deep Breathing Exercise
- Close your mouth and take a long slow breath in through your nose as described above.
- Keep your mouth closed and breathe out through your nose, in a long, slow and controlled manner, as described above. Imagine that you are pushing the breath into the center of your body and then out through the fingers and toes.
- Each time you breathe in and out, that is considered a round. So do at least 7 or 8 rounds. You can stop once you begin to feel the relaxation radiate through your body and mind or continue with a few more rounds for deeper relaxation.
- Close your eyes, if possible. Closing your eyes enhances the benefits of your breath, because this immediately activates alpha brainwaves and incites relaxation. However, if it isn’t possible to close your eyes, the breathing alone will work as well.
Use your breath as needed throughout your day during times of high anxiety, stress, or disharmony. Wherever you are, just stop and take a few minutes to close your eyes and take several deep breaths using the proper breathing procedure described above.
I have provided you with a very basic outline on using the breath to improve your health that you can put to use immediately. However, if you’d like to learn more about the health benefits of deep breathing exercises, Dr. Andrew Weil has an excellent beginners CD that can be found by visiting this link:* Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing (The Self Healing Series)
Dr. Weil’s CD is a fantastic educational source on why and how your breath is important. It basically gives you a little crash course on the impact that breathing has on your health and then provides you with 8 easy and simple techniques to achieve a variety of different goals.
However, if you have a very sensitive autonomic nervous system, please be aware that I found some of Dr. Weil’s techniques to be too stimulating. I still recommend the CD though, because the greatest value is the education you’ll receive about the autonomic nervous system and the amazing properties of breath.
Also for those who have the hypersensitive sympathetic nervous system, you also want to make sure you pay special attention to your technique in order to get the most benefit from your deep breathing exercises. It’s very important that you breathe through your nose, not your mouth, and don’t hold your breath too long, as described above. Don’t exert the eyes or roll them up, look straight ahead. Please read my page on breathwork to learn more about this.
More Benefits of Deep Breathing Exercises
When you breathe through your nose as described above you can use your breath to help relieve pain, boost energy, clarify and quiet the mind, relieve tension, lessen the intensity of symptoms of any health conditions you have, improve sleep, relax, calm and soothe the body and mind, quiet the deeper self and help you be more spiritually connected. You will also oxygenate your body and help your body to detoxify better and boost the immune system.
Some of the conditions that benefit the most from deep breathing exercises include insomnia, headaches, migraines, heart disease, back pain, balancing pH, high blood pressure, emphysema, improving sports performance, unspecified chronic pain, adrenal fatigue, depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, PTSD, MS, food sensitivities, chemical sensitivities, fibromyalgia, and arthritis. However, there probably isn’t any condition that wouldn’t benefit in some way, particularly if it is accompanied by pain and stress. I personally find deep breathing to be the most effective form of stress relief, next to exercise.
Deep breathing turns off the sympathetic nervous system and turns on the parasympathetic nervous system, so it is one of the most beneficial techniques you can find for adrenal disorders, anxiety, PTSD, or any condition related to the sympathetic nervous system.
Sometimes you may not be able to eliminate your pain completely, but at the very least you’ll be able to function better within the pain or other symptoms you may be experiencing. It reduces the severity of impact and improves the quality of life.
Practicing deep breathing first thing in the morning and at night right before you go to sleep is really helpful for calming down and relaxing. It will get your day off to a good start and help you fall asleep.
I do deep breathing exercises as soon as I lay down every night and it puts me right to sleep. I’m usually out before round 10. This is because breathing deeply stimulates the release of melatonin, our primary sleep hormone. Thus, your breath is one of the best natural sleep aids you can find.
Aside from the health conditions, because of the production of alpha brain waves, deep breathing is also highly effective for spiritual fulfillment, simple relaxation, higher states of consciousness, high levels of creativity, and heightened awareness, so even healthy people can reap the many benefits to be found with breath.
I experience very high levels of creativity when I practice my breathing exercises. Words, ideas, and insights for books, web pages, newsletters, etc., just flow like a stream and send me running for my pencil and paper constantly.
When you have time, you can take your conscious breathing one step further and find deeper relaxation by using the following breathing technique.
Extended Deep Breathing Exercise for More Benefits
Lie down somewhere comfortable and close your eyes. You can have some relaxing soothing music playing in the background if you prefer or complete silence. Make yourself completely comfortable with pillows or whatever and your arms at your sides. Loosen any tight clothing.
Take a very deep breath in (using the proper breathing exercise described above) then exhale. Make sure you’re breathing through your nose. Do this several times until you begin to feel your body relax a little. Try not to think about anything. Focus your mind completely on your breath; flowing in and out with each breath. This is conscious breathing at its best.
Now take another deep breath, and beginning with the top of your head guide your breath to that area, and using your mind’s eye as you exhale, direct the breath into your head. With the exhale, envision that the breath is penetrating into that area of the body you are focusing on. Take another deep breath and this time using your mind’s eye guide the breath into your face muscles, then another deep breath into your jaw and eye muscles. You should begin to feel little tingles as tension and pain melt away.
If tension is persistent and doesn’t loosen, then try tightening the area by clenching and then releasing and then breathe into the area again. It may take several attempts to grasp this technique if this is new for you. It’s easy to get distracted and let your mind drift off into unwanted territory. As you practice breathing exercises more frequently, it will become easier and quicker to attain. After you begin to relax, then do several deep breaths into the whole head, face area and enjoy the sensation.
Now move to your shoulders and chest. Take a deep breath and on exhale breathe into your shoulders and then another deep breath and into the chest. After several deep breaths guided to these areas, imagine the breath is now radiating down the arms and exiting out through the fingers as you breathe in deeply and exhale into the chest. Don’t forget to make sure you’re breathing through your nose; when you’re inexperienced it’s very easy to slip back into your normal pattern of breathing without realizing it.
Then move to your abdomen and hips and again guide your deep breath on exhales into each of them. As they begin to relax, imagine the breath is now radiating down the legs and into the feet and toes as it flows into the abdomen. Again, if any particular area is resisting, then tense it up by clenching and releasing it and breathe into it again until it releases.
If you are experiencing a headache, migraine, or pain in any particular area of your body, you can use conscious breathing to guide the breath into that particular area and imagine the pain is flowing out of your body with your breath.
Now the whole body should be relaxed, anxiety and pain will be minimized; your mind should be calmer and you feel peaceful. Stay lying in this position for a while and continue to breathe deep breaths through your nose and guide the exhales into the center of your body, radiating the breath out to each and every part of your body and exiting through the fingers and toes, enjoying the sensation of complete relaxation.
At this point, you could add a meditation session and enhance the benefits even further or just bask in the feeling of being stress-free. You may get up when you feel ready.
To reap the benefits of deep breathing exercises most abundantly, they should be practiced faithfully on a consistent and daily basis.
I have found these deep breathing exercises to work best when I can close my eyes, but it is also very helpful at other times. After you become more skilled at it, you will be able to use them while you are driving, at the computer, in a conversation, or wherever you may be, but of course, you can’t close your eyes at those times.
The benefits of deep breathing exercises are so great and the investment requires so little, this makes it a self-care technique that should be used by everyone and the cost of zero makes it accessible to even the most financially challenged.
Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash.
Andrew Weil. Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing (The Self Healing Series) Sounds True, 1999.
Janice Strubbe-Wittenberg. The Rebellious Body. Da Capo Press, 1996.