Deep breathing is good for you – it sends your body into a more relaxed state, releases tension, and gives you clarity. But getting the technique right isn’t as easy as it first appears. “When used at the right time (for example, when your body sends stress signals – like a racing heart or clenched jaw), deep breathing can stop you from losing your temper,” says school counsellor Camille Ko.
“Many people try to breathe deeply when they’re at 10/10 on the anger scale,” Camille says. “But really, you should do it at 5/10 on the scale. Once you’ve reached the peak, you can’t think straight or calm yourself down.” That’s why you need to be aware of your body’s responses, so you can catch yourself.
It’s all in the belly
Good deep breathing comes down to two things: breathing from the base of your lungs, and having longer exhalations than inhalations, says Peggy Santosa, a yoga instructor who teaches pranayama (the control of breath) at The Yoga School. “When you exhale longer [than you inhale], it sends a message to your brain that you’re switching from an active to a relaxed mode.” In short, when you take brief, shallow breaths, your mind tells your body to remain in “fight mode” – a big no if you’re trying to stay calm.
You might not realise it, but most of the time, you breathe using just the upper part of your lungs. That means the breath originates from your chest, and is shallower. The most effective way of drawing deep breaths, says Peggy, is through diaphragmatic breathing, colloquially known as “belly breaths”. She breaks it down:
Put one hand on your chest, and the other on your belly – doing this helps you better feel the movements. Sit up straight and release tension in your belly by pushing it outwards. The hand on your belly should pick up this movement.
Take a deep breath as you expand your belly. When you inhale, you should feel the hand on your stomach moving outwards, as your diaphragm and ribcage expand. Hold your breath for six counts.
Release your breath, exhaling slowly for seven counts. At the end of the counts, you should feel as if that breath has been entirely expelled. Your body should feel more relaxed, and your mind should be clearer.
Repeat until you’re completely calm.
Resist the urge to suck that stomach in
It’s common practice to pull your stomach in when you inhale, but doing that actually causes tension in your belly, which then puts pressure on your diaphragm (the large muscle at the base of your lungs). That means you won’t be able to fill your lungs completely with air, because of the tightness in your diaphragm. If your lungs don’t fully expand, you’re not optimising your breathing.
This article was first published in the September 17 issue of Her World magazine.