There are many benefits of learning how to breath deeply. Deep breathing is a fantastic tool to use when we’re stressed or angry. We need to practise breathing deeply so that when we’re overwhelmed, we can remember to focus on our breath.
Our modern lives are full of stressors. A bit of stress can be useful, but we don’t want to live in “reactive mode” all the time.
Ideally we want to be able to see as we’re getting stressed and take measures to avoid unnecessary worry and stress.
But it’s like we live in a bubble. It can be difficult to see that we’re getting stressed.
It can be helpful to start to see when other people are stressed. It’s easier to recognise it in others than ourselves. (Generally I wouldn’t recommend stepping in and telling them about it. They’re unlikely to thank you!)
I can often see my kids getting stressed and upset with each other.
When we’re getting upset or angry, deep breathing is really useful to help us calm down.
The problem is, that when we’re triggered and upset, we’re not up for listening to others, or learning how to do things like deep breathing.
We need to get into the habit of practising deep breathing at other times.
This might mean:
There are 2 main ways that deep breathing helps us.
Firstly we have the “mammalian diving reflex”.
Secondly, deep breathing helps us to focus on something other than our angry emotions. It helps us to give ourselves “a brain hug” as Dan Siegel describes it in “The Whole Brain Child”.
Any animal with lungs that wants to swim underwater needs to be able to hold its breath. When we hold our breath, our hearts slow down. This is called the “mammalian diving reflex”.
We can consciously slow our breathing down which in turn will slow our heart rate down.
When we’re in the throws of “big emotions”, our “thinking brain” isn’t really in control. The part that knows that throwing a toy on the floor isn’t a great idea as it will probably break is ignored by our “primitive” brain that says “I don’t care!”
When our primitive brain is in control, it feels great to give in and be driven by the emotion.
When our thinking brain gets back into control, we feel remorse. Or ashamed.
Focusing on our breath is a way to allow our thinking brain to get back into control. Dan Siegel called this giving ourselves a “brain hug”.
Deep breathing can help us with any big emotions. When we’re anxious, angry, frustrated, overwhelmed.
We can use the tool of deep breathing to help us change our habits and the way we are.
For example, you want to lose weight. You start to understand that when you’re anxious, you treat yourself with a bar of chocolate. You recognise the pattern, but can’t work out what to do.
The next time you feel the pull of anxiety, instead of reaching for a chocolate bar, focus on your breathing. Until the anxiety has passed.
We need to practise breathing deeply so we actually do it at the moment of stress.
Work a few breaths into your daily routine. I like to start my morning walk with a few deep breaths. I encourage my kids to join in.
You could get into the habit of breathing deeply when you get into your car, park your car, are stopped at the lights.
Or whilst you’re doing household chores.
You get the picture! Find a time that works for you!
Doing anything that gets you out of breath will help you focus on your breath for a bit. Getting out of breath also opens up your lungs. (Of course, your heart rate won’t go down but that’s OK.)
Some exercises focus more on breathing that others. For example, if you do swimming you need to co-ordinate your breathing with your strokes. Some forms of yoga, focus on breathing. Ashtang yoga is all about the breath!
There are different types of meditation. Many people like to focus on their breathing when they’re meditating.
It may feel like “it’s just breathing”! But learning how to focus on our breathing and breathing deeply through out the day can reduce our stress levels and help us deal with big emotions. Once we can deal with big emotions, we can change the recurring pattern of whatever we want to change in our lives.
Dr Orlena is a health coach. She helps busy mums go from "I can't lose weight" to feeling fit and fabulous. Find out more about her here.