The key to feeling calm is breathing. No, this isn’t a gimmick or sort-of solution.
“It’s a natural relaxer,” say Susan Lalemand, a nurse and health educator with Unum in Portland, Maine.
Most of the time you probably don’t think about breathing because it happens without much thought. But that doesn’t mean your inhales and exhales are doing as much for you as they could.
Using the full capacity of your lungs can make the difference between feeling in control or feeling anxious. When you use belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, you need less oxygen but also breathe more easily. So how do you do this?
Inhale. Notice if your chest expands, or if your belly and middle torso do. Try to make your belly and middle torso – not chest – expand. To exhale, just let go of the inhale.
Here are three easy breathing exercises:
Go to a quiet space – and just breathe: Be alone, and do nothing but pay attention to your breath. Breathe through your nose. With each inhale, let your belly expand first, then keep drawing your breath in until you feel your ribcage expand, and, as you finish your inhale, feel your chest rise. Exhale completely, feeling your chest fall, ribcage move to neutral and belly deflate. Repeat for 20 rounds, longer if you have time.
Visualize: Breathe in through your nose as if you are smelling a flower, or any scent that’s appealing to you. Feel the air move along the edges of your nostrils. Then pause for a count or two. Exhale through your mouth as if you’re trying to make a flame flicker. Feel your breath along your lips. Repeat for 20 rounds, longer if you have time.
Breathe and hold: Breathe in through your nose slowly to the count of 5. Feel your whole torso expand. Pause and hold your breath for the count of 8. Try to be as still as possible. Exhale slowly through your nose or mouth to the count of 8. Repeat for 10 to 20 rounds.
If feeling calmer isn’t enough incentive, there are more benefits to breathing deeply: It helps strengthen the immune system, combats depression and reduces blood pressure, Lalemand says.
“There are no down sides to paying attention to our breathing,” she says.
Journalist Mitra Malek writes about wellness, fitness and innovation. She has taught yoga regularly since 2006 and was a senior editor for Yoga Journal magazine. Learn more at mitramalek.com.