Originally published in our Summer 2013 newsletter and on Kate’s blog
How often do you hear the expression “as easy as breathing”? Breathing is pretty easy, but breathing well is a skill that requires practice! While reading Chi Running, I learned more about breathing and its importance not only for fitness but also stress management and focus.
Shallow breathing is stressful
Most people spend most of their time breathing shallowly. When you breathe from only the top of your lungs, you don’t get as much air as you can. Most oxygen exchange occurs in the lower lungs, so you must breathe deeply to get the most oxygen into your blood. This requires not only breathing in fully but also exhaling fully. Exhaling fully ensures that there is space for fresh air.
When you breathe deeply, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is your “rest and digest” mode. You need to spend time in this state to properly absorb and store nutrients from your diet and regenerate your body.
Shallow, rapid breaths activate your sympathetic nervous system, which is your “fight or flight” mode. In fight or flight mode, you release stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which increase your blood sugar for fuel and also store fat (rather than burning it). These hormones also increase blood pressure and heart rate. Over time, if you spend most of your time in this state, you will exhaust your adrenal glands, accumulate belly fat, and increase your risk of heart disease.
Learn to breathe well
My favourite breathing exercise is alternate nostril breathing! If you do this exercise nightly before bed, you will soon notice improved relaxation and sleep as well as improved mental focus during the day!
Caution, do not practice retention of your breath if you have high blood pressure or are in the last trimester of pregnancy.
Alternate nostril breathing
- Sit comfortably in a quiet place with your spine straight.
- Close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out.
- Close right nostril with thumb and inhale through left nostril for a count of 4.
- Close the left nostril with ringer finger and hold the breath for a count of 4.
- Open the right nostril while keeping the left nostril closed and exhale through right nostril for a count of 4.
- Hold the breath out for a count of 4.
- Repeat the procedure, this time inhaling through right nostril with left nostril closed and then exhaling through left nostril with right nostril closed.
- Once back to starting point (right nostril closed), you have completed 1 round.
- Begin with 4 rounds daily and work up to 8 rounds or more.