The secret to anti-ageing, reducing stress, sleeping better and aiding digestion might be as simple as learning to breathe properly.
While breathing is something that comes naturally, many of us are doing it wrong.
“But by adulthood, we become too busy to breathe properly – we take short, shallow breaths that fill our chests but not our bellies. Often this is down to stress. We spend so much time in our heads and not in our bodies that breathing slips down our list of priorities during a busy day, and we get by on half-breaths.” Rebecca Dennis from the Breathing Tree told the Telegraph, London.
Breathing properly can do wonders for your whole body.
In fact, London-based holistic facialist Annee de Mamiel said she can tell by looking at someone’s face if they are breathing properly.
“When you ‘panic breathe’, often your cells don’t get the oxygen they need to function properly. Toxins build up and the skin on the face begins to age prematurely, in the form of fine lines, darkness under the eyes, puffiness in the face and a look of tiredness,” she told the publication.
Echoing this school of thought in a recent article published on The Guardian website, Zoe Williams writes: “If you breathe properly, filling your lungs from the belly to the throat, it will improve everything: skin, sleep, digestion, even impending Christmas stress."
The good news is, with just a little practice, you can get the hang of this breathing thing!
Breathing techniques to try right now
The following techniques are simple and can be done pretty much anywhere. You can call on them in stressful situations as needed but it’s also worth incorporating them into your daily routine as a way to calm and centre yourself and to help create a strong mind/body balance. Try them all and find out what works best for you.
- Belly breathing (also known as diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing)
Sit, stand or lay in a position that keeps your back straight. Place one hand on your stomach and one on your chest. Inhale slowly and deeply. You should notice that the hand on your belly rises higher than the one on your chest. This means you’ve successfully filled your entire lungs. Exhale slowly through your mouth. When your lungs are almost empty, slightly pull in your tummy to squeeze out the last of the air. Repeat five times. It can take a while to get this one exactly right. If you have trouble getting the hand on your tummy to rise instead of fall, relax your stomach and shoulders and keep practising! It will come.
- Paced breathing (also known as counting breaths)
Begin by relaxing your head, neck and shoulders and with a few gentle stretches and shrugs and by breathing slowly, deeply and quietly. As you exhale, count ‘one’ to yourself. Then inhale deeply. On your next exhalation, count ‘one, two’. Repeat until you reach a count of ‘one, two, three, four, five’. Begin again and repeat the cycle for as long as you feel comfortable. Counting breaths helps focus your attention solely on your breathing. In doing so, you’re also letting go of stress as you flood your cells with oxygen.
- Bellows breathing (also known as the stimulating breath)
Sit up straight, close your eyes and relax your face. With your mouth closed, quickly inhale and exhale 10 times. Then, take one deep breath, hold it for two or three seconds then exhale slowly through slightly pursed lips. Rest for five normal breaths then repeat up to three times. Bellows breathing is a common yoga technique. If you’re new to bellows breathing, limit each session to no more than 30 seconds at first as it make may you feel a little dizzy. Build up in five or 10 second increments as you become more comfortable. Bellows breathing is said to help boost energy and speed up metabolism!
- Alternate nostril breathing (also known as purifying breath)
Sit quietly and clear your mind of all thoughts. Place your right thumb over your right nostril to close it. Inhale slowly through your left nostril. Hold for two seconds. Now close your left nostril with your left thumb and release thumb from right nostril. Exhale through your right nostril. Pause, then inhale through right nostril. Pause. Use your thumb to close off your right nostril and exhale then inhale through your left nostril. Start slowly, repeating once or twice and gradually increase. Alternate nostril breathing is another popular yogic practice. It is said to calm, cleanse the lungs, boost concentration and even help with insomnia.