When was the last time you checked out how you’re breathing? Surprisingly, this unconscious act may hold the key to wellbeing. Research suggests a significant percentage of British adults aren’t breathing correctly, typically catching short, shallow breaths and failing to use the whole respiratory system. For improved stress levels, heart health and digestion as well as anti-ageing, recent studies indicate deep breathing has the potential to transform mind and body.
To fully understand the benefits, and how to fit it into your day, we caught up with Co-Founder of breathing studio Inspirational Space, Aimee Hartley...
Firstly, why is it important that we breathe properly?
It goes without saying that breath is life. And while we are born with the ability to breathe properly (babies take big breaths that fill their bellies, causing it to expand), by adulthood we become too busy and stressed to do this, taking short, shallow breaths that fill our chests, not our bellies. This, in turn, carries a whole host of repercussions for the body.
So, what are the benefits of deeper breathing?
A full, healthy breath can improve digestion, boost the immune system, regulate our sleep patterns and, most importantly, help manage our nervous system. A 2015 study concluded slow, deep breathing techniques shift the nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic (i.e. rest) mode, thus lowering cortisol (the stress hormone) levels.
Research has also shown correct breathing enables the diaphragm to massage other organs, meaning more oxygen enters the body and more carbon dioxide leaves, slowing the heart rate and stabilising blood pressure. Poor oxygenation means the body is not able to function optimally – affecting everything from our muscles to metabolism.
How do you start breathing properly?
Attending a one-to-one session with a trained breath-worker can help you understand where and why you hold on to tension within the respiratory system (this could be anything from posture to the accumulated effects of a desk job). Treatment at a breathing studio will look at how to improve breath patterns for better physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
Work better breathing into your day with these five easy tips…
ON RISING: Before you get out of bed, place both of your hands on the lower belly and gently try and encourage the breath here on the inhalation. No effort is needed, just awareness. Allow the breath to come in through the nose, out through the nose. Take ten breaths (this takes less than a minute for most) to start your day with breath awareness.
POWER SHOWER: While in the shower place the palms of your hands on either side of the lower ribs, so your little fingers are in line with the lowest rib. Breathe in and you should feel the rib cage expand outwards, breathing out you should ‘let go’ allowing the ribcage to naturally fall (the belly should still be rising here on the inhalation). Take ten to 20 breaths and encourage the ribs to expand a little more in each inhalation.
AT YOUR DESK: Sit comfortably in your chair, rest your hands on your thighs and allow the spine to be tall (it sometimes helps to take the spine a little away from the support of your chair). To help release tension, take a deep and slow inhalation through the nose and raise the shoulders to the ears. Exhale and let the shoulders go. Repeat five to ten times and then rotate the shoulders slowly backwards.
ON YOUR COMMUTE: Hold your left hand with your right hand and, using your right thumb, apply pressure to the centre of the palm of the left hand. This acupressure point is for the diaphragm and can help us connect with our breathing and release tension. Close the eyes, breathe gently and focus on the palm of your hand. Repeat on the other side. Breathe in for a count of five, hold for a count of two and exhale for seven.
BEFORE BED: If comfortable, lie in bed on your tummy with your head to one side and make sure your jaw is relaxed (allow there to be a small space between the upper and lower teeth). Close your eyes, taking a diaphragmatic breath, breathe in through the nose for a count of four and hold for a count of three then exhale through the mouth for a count of six. Repeat this five to ten times; on each exhale imagine ‘letting go’ of the day.
For more information visit InspirationSpace.co.uk, a breathing studio founded by breath experts Rebecca Dennis and Aimee Hartley and yoga teacher Jess Horn. Rebecca’s book And Breathe is available now (Orion Spring, £13.48).