Just take a deep breath! We’ve all heard that saying plenty of times, whether from a friend as a joke when we’re freaking out about something ridiculous, or in a teen movie when one zitty girl is trying to comfort another equally pimply peer about the rejection from her latest crush, or even from our yoga instructor when she’s explaining how to get from upward to downward dog. But what does “take a deep breath” really mean? And is there truly a science to it? Turns out, there is.
A deep breath, when done with intention, can act as a refresh to your day. It can boost your energy and lift your spirits. Yep, we’re talking that “in with the good, out with bad” sort of thing. Dr. Sherry Ross, an OB/GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., weighs in on how breath can be used as a reset, how it can benefit us and how to do it correctly.
What are the benefits?
Whenever you’re feeling frustrated, stressed, overwhelmed or anxious, breathing exercises can allow you to press pause and settle those levels of emotional chaos. Breathing exercises are well known to help reduce physical and mental stress and aid in relaxation, says Dr. Ross.
In addition to immediate stress relief, practicing breath can help lead to a decrease in other medical conditions like headaches, hyperventilating, chronic fatigue, insomnia, phobias, depression and concentration problems. On a more chemical level, taking time to be mindful of your breath can lower blood pressure and blood sugars, release serotonin, improve mental focus and clarity, and increase your sleep quality.
How do you do it?
Sure, deep breathing seems like a simple thing to do: breathe in deep, let it all out. But success comes when you practice it with intention. Belly or abdominal breathing is a common technique for those just starting out. First, get in a comfortable position either sitting up straight or lying flat on your back. Place one hand on your abdomen just below your rib cage and the other hand on your chest. Then, take a deep breath in through your nose letting your abdomen push your hand up. Your chest shouldn’t move while you’re doing this. Breathe out through pursed lips, like you’re whistling. Feel as the hand on your abdomen falls in and use it to continue pushing the air out. Try to do 6-10 of these deep slow breaths per minute for 5-10 minutes every day.
Equal breathing is another easy breathing technique to work into your routine. Set aside about five minutes where you can be in a quiet, calming environment. Then, inhale through your nose for a count of four, and exhale out of your mouth for another count of four. It’s as simple as that! Take your time and focus on just your breath with each of these exercises. Soon you’ll be on your way to a clear mind, ready to start (or continue going with) your day.
Is there a specific time to practice?
There isn’t exactly a right time to incorporate this type of exercise into your daily routine, says Dr. Ross. The important thing is to be consistent and purposeful. Whether that’s first thing in the morning, right before bed, prior to a stressful meeting or after exercising, it’s up to you to choose when a deep breathing routine is most beneficial to you. But keep in mind that breathing exercises work best when combined with meditation, mindfulness, yoga or other stress relieving techniques you like to use. So if you’re hitting up the gym already, consider staying an extra five minutes to sit in a quiet space and work in a little more “me” time.
How else can breathing help?
Besides getting a much-needed moment to yourself, practicing breath has short- and long-term health benefits. Right away you may feel more balanced, relaxed and relieved with whatever stressful event is causing those butterflies. Over time, scheduling a breathing routine into your everyday life will ultimately improve your sense of well-being, physical and mental health. Taking five minutes out of your day for breathing exercises can be the perfect prescription for good health and longevity, Dr. Ross says.