Day after day, we breathe in and out - 24/7, we can easily take this for granted. But our modern high-paced lifestyle increasingly fills our lives with high-stress opportunities, over-stimulating our senses. In hectic situations, we sometimes lose our way and often only one thing can help: taking a deep breath. A few long breaths can help us feel more relaxed and enable us to gather and clear our thoughts. Why is this the case? How can breathing be consciously controlled, and how can it be so crucial for our quality of life?
Without breathing, there is no life - it accompanies us throughout our whole lives - from our first breath to our last. Breathing is there when we wake up in the morning and when we go to sleep in the evening, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. It is the connection between the body and psyche because it reacts to physical changes - when we run, our breath becomes faster. It responds to our mental and emotional states - we hold our breath when frightened and our breathing stops or quickens when we are excited. What makes breathing unique is that, unlike all other functions of the autonomic nervous system, we can consciously control it. We can breathe faster or slower, hold our breath or let it flow into the chest or abdomen.
From birth onwards, we develop a natural breathing pattern. This changes in the course of our lives and is as versatile as our personality and experiences. But for many of us, our natural way of breathing can be incorrect. Our respiration can be either too shallow, unrhythmic or too high (thoracic breathing). These erratic breathing sequences happen through increased stress, which causes our posture to change unconsciously.
Every postural change affects our breathing patterns. Every emotion that we store for too long has an effect and vice versa, our body's centre of gravity changes, which leads to an adjustment in our body's tone. In times of high stress or unexpected situations, blood flows away from our core to the periphery, as our body prepares to respond to a threat or escape from danger. Stressful situations can cause us to lose our sense of clarity. There are, however, ways and means to restore balance in such moments through proper breathing. To show how this works, we are going to take a look at nasal breathing.
In nasal breathing, the air is warmed up via the nasal mucous membranes and helps to develop a gas that enables us to transport 10 - 15 % more oxygen into the cells. It acts as a direct filter and is sterilising, antibacterial and antiviral.
Scientific tests prove that over 30 positive effects on your body can be produced by proper nasal breathing alone. Another exciting feature is alternating breathing, which is used, for instance, in yoga. If you breathe more through your left nostril, it causes increased activity in the right brain hemisphere, that's the creative part. If you breathe more through the right half of your nose, the focus shifts more to the left hemisphere. The aim is to synchronise both nostrils and thus the analytical and creative halves of your brain to achieve a state of real presence. When the breathing force centres again, there is a natural expansion of consciousness.
Breathing exercises for everyday life
Conscious breathing is possible at any time if required. This accessibility makes the exercises of breathing therapy an ideal aid in everyday life. They can help alleviate discomfort, increase relaxation and attentiveness, improve concentration and allow you to master stressful situations. Even a deep sigh now and then provides for complete ventilation of the lungs and can help you to reduce stress.
Alternate nostril breathing provides emotional balance: inhale through one nostril, hold your breath, breathe out deeply through the other nostril and repeat several times. This technique can help you become calmer and more relaxed. Controlled breathing exercises are one of the essential practices in yoga and can also be applied in your everyday life. "Pranayama" is composed of Prana (life force) and Ayama (control) and means deepening and regulating the breath through mindfulness. The aim is to strengthen your life force and thus, your body and mind, improve the flow of energy and remove any blockages. Prolonged exhalation has a remarkably calming effect on your nervous system. Deep breathing helps us to better process and release unpleasant emotions. Also, your cells are supplied with higher levels of oxygen, allowing better regeneration of the organs and hormone balance.
Give it a try: breathe in and out through your right nostril only for a few minutes. This exercise will activate your sympathetic nervous system and increase your blood pressure and heart rate. As a result, you will feel fitter.
If, on the other hand, you only breathe in through your left nostril, this activates your parasympathetic nervous system. This practice causes your blood pressure and heart rate drop, encouraging a calming effect.
For more stressful moments, abdominal breathing can help. In this case, raise your arms sideways for five to ten seconds while inhaling in a sitting position and slowly lower them again while exhaling gently. At the end of the movement, place your hands on your stomach and wait for the next breath. This exercise fills your breathing apparatus with air and, if done regularly, can stimulate your metabolism, relieve your heart and provide more relaxation.