Updated: Oct 30, 2019
Want to reduce anxiety, improve concentration and rejuvenate your skin? There's a completely free and easy way to achieve this and the good news is you're doing it right now! But are you doing it right?
Modern life encourages a kind of "breathlessness" that affects our physical health and well-being. A 2016 study found that proper inhalation technique triggers electrical activity in the brain which improves memory, emotional processing and how we react. So when we are breathing wrong, it really shows - our breath is often an excellent indicator of our mental state: for instance shallow, quick breaths signify stress and anxiety as does holding your breath. Do we even know how we breathe? According to the experts, the majority of us only use 25% of our respiratory capacity. Growing awareness of mindfulness, meditation and the pursuit of stress reduction is leading to an increased recognition of the importance of "proper" breathing.
Whichever way you breathe, it's helpful to know that problematic breathing kick-starts the production of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, causing blood pressure and heart rate to rise which contributes to shorter, sharper intakes of breath and perhaps even short periods of not breathing! When we are constantly in this flight or fight mode, these breathing patterns continue long after the 'threat' has passed and can become habitual. It can become a vicious cycle where the brain may then seek reasons to feel anxious in order to "justify" the breathing response.
However we can release all of the emotions and feelings that we hold onto just by breathing, using a deep, diaphragmatic breath which basically helps the brain to chill out. So how do you do it properly?
You need to really breathe into - and engage - the diaphragm: on inhalation, your lower belly should rise, ribs expand and upper chest lifts slightly. Exhalation is the opposite: your belly button should sink towards the spine while chest lowers and contracts.
A great tip if you're feeling stressed is to hold both hands together with your right thumb applying pressure to the centre of the left palm - this is an acupressure point for the diaphragm and helps relieve tension for the respiratory muscles. Close your eyes and breathe gently - 5 seconds in, hold for 2, 7 seconds out - with all the focus on the breath. Repeat on the other side.
The wonderful thing about deep breathing is that it not only helps your emotional and mental state but the influx of invigorating oxygen which deep breathing generates brings with it a host of benefits which include happy gut and happy skin:
Deep breathing enables the lungs to massage the rest of your organs which has excellent benefits for your digestive health;
It also has an amazing impact on your skin as 70% of all toxins leave our bodies via our breath with the carbon dioxide we expel. Add this to boosted circulation, lower cortisol levels (resulting in fewer hormone-induced break-outs), better sleep, more energy and you begin to see a new picture emerging: happy person inside and out!
The human body constantly amazes us - it has so many mechanisms to heal itself and breathing is probably one of the most overlooked tools that we have at our disposal. But even 10 minutes a day of deep breathing is guaranteed to enhance your life and if you need any final persuasion, we leave you with one last brilliant reason - deep breathing triggers the release of endorphins, those feel-good hormones that lift your mood and boost your energy levels!