Deep breathing techniques for improved mental health & general wellness

Deep breathing techniques for improved mental health & general wellness

By Danielle Fourie – Studying BHSc (Naturopathy)

Every moment we take a breath. Every day we do this without a single thought on it. It is a natural process, but are we truly breathing?

The easiest and simplest technique for improving wellness and mental health is to work with the breath; to JUST BREATHE. For those who suffer with anxiety, high levels of stress, and/or sleep issues, read on.

The benefits of deep breathing techniques extend far beyond merely getting more oxygen into the system. Studies have shown that inclusion of breathing techniques significantly lowers cortisol levels  (the ‘stress hormone’)(Ma et al., 2017). There has also been shown to be an overall increase in relaxation, mood, alertness and focus, with reductions in the less-pleasant feelings like anxiety, depression and anger (Zaccaro et al., 2018). Deeper breaths regulate the nervous system and let your body know that it is safe and can switch to “rest-and-digest” mode – this ultimately results in better sleep, improved digestion and circulation and promotes healthier body functions all round (Russo, Santarelli, & O’Rourke, 2017).

So many benefits from such a simple inclusion! Easy enough for anyone to try. There are multiple ways to deepen the breath and connect with the wellness that it offers, so let’s just touch on 3 popular and easy to integrate, options.

1. Box breathing (aka Square breathing)

There are 4 parts to this method: inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds. Then repeat. Easy to practice ANYWHERE in any moment that you may need extra calm.

Image: (“Relaxation Techniques for the Classroom,” 2008)

2. 4-7-8 breathing

4-7-8 breathing is similar to box breathing but promotes deeper breathing. It hails from yogic breathing practices (known as pranayama) and brings with it all the benefits and mindfulness of each of the wonderful techniques.

Here, you breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, then hold your breath for 7 seconds and finally exhale through your mouth with a ‘whooshing’ sound for 8 seconds. Then merely rinse and repeat at least 3 times in a sitting.

Image: (Megan Johnson, n.d.)

3. Alternate nostril breathing

If you attend yoga classes, you may be familiar with this one. This method is intended to bring focus to the present by focusing on the alternation of breathing and, as a result, brings about all the benefits of deep breathing and mindfulness.

It is a little more complex than the other methods, but I personally find it to be one of the most effective.

So, here’s the how-to:

Exhale fully, then close your right nostril and breathe in through the left for a count of 4. Close the left nostril, open the right and breathe out for a count of 6. Now, breathe in with the left nostril still closed for a count of 4. Then close the left, open the right and breathe out for a count of 6. Again, rinse and repeat 6-8 times, at least twice a day for increased benefits.

Image: (Liberty Baldovino, 2016)

Now it’s your turn. Give each a try. See which fits your lifestyle and step into a place of mental wellbeing and overall wellness.

References

Liberty Baldovino. (2016). Pranayama Breathing Exercise. Retrieved June 10, 2020, from Yoga tailor website: http://www.yogatailor.com/blog/2016/10/pranayama-breathing-exercise-a-few-minutes-a-day-keeps-worries-away/

Ma, X., Yue, Z.-Q., Gong, Z.-Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N.-Y., Shi, Y.-T., … Li, Y.-F. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 874. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874

Megan Johnson. (n.d.). Lower Stress with 4-7-8 Breathing. Retrieved June 10, 2020, from Megan Johnson Coaching website: https://meganjohnsoncoaching.com/lower-stress-breathing/

Relaxation Techniques for the Classroom. (2008). Retrieved June 10, 2020, from Autism Spectrum disorder resources website: https://asdresources.wordpress.com/strategies/relaxation-techniques-for-the-classroom/

Russo, M. A., Santarelli, D. M., & O’Rourke, D. (2017). The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human. Breathe (Sheffield, England), 13(4), 298–309. https://doi.org/10.1183/20734735.009817

Zaccaro, A., Piarulli, A., Laurino, M., Garbella, E., Menicucci, D., Neri, B., & Gemignani, A. (2018). How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12, 353. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00353

For more, follow Danielle on FaceBook and Instagram @eruditeholistic.

Danielle is available for naturopathic consultation at Endeavour Wellness Clinic every Tuesday from 8am to 4.30pm from 7 July 2020.

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