5 Ways Breathing Properly Can Change Your Life

From calming nerves and anxiety to making you feel more powerful, it's time to harness the power of your breath

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You know how when you go to a yoga class and the teacher tells you to focus on the breath?

And they keep going on (and on, and on) about the breathing?

That's because breathing properly can have a hugely transformative effect on the body, and it's time to wake up to its power.

Here are 5 ways your breath can change your life, along with a few simple exercises you can do right now.

1: It reduces anxiety

Your breath is a direct reflection of your mood: if you're calm and relaxed, your breath will be slow, long and even, whereas if you're stressed, your breath will be quicker and more shallow.

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But breathing in such a rapid, panicky way simply exacerbates the situation and triggers the body's 'fight or flight' response.

The next time you're feeling stressed, simply close your eyes (if you're at work, try escaping to the loo for a few minutes), try inhaling deeply through the nose for a count of five, then exhale slowly out through the nose for a count of five, and repeat 10 times (more if necessary).

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This slow, rhythmic breath stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn reduces the heart rate and relaxes the muscles and mind.

2: It minimises stress

Stress is inescapable, especially in our hyper-connected world, where every text message, email and app alert heightens that aforementioned 'fight or flight' response.

But what we can change is our reaction to these triggers. One of the ways we can do this is through the Relaxation Response, a technique first pioneered in the Seventies at Harvard Medical School by Dr. Herbert Benson.

This can be elicited in many ways, including meditation and yoga, but the common factor in all these techniques is deep belly breathing.

When we're stressed, we tend to take shallow breaths that limit the diaphragm's full range of motion.

The next time you feel your stress levels beginning to rise, place one hand on your belly, and take a deep breath in through the nose for a count of four, feeling the belly rise in your hand, then exhale for a count of four, feeling the belly fully empty. Repeat for one to two minutes.

3: It helps you sleep better

The 4-7-8 breathing technique, pioneered by Dr Andrew Weil, is described as a 'natural tranquliser for the nervous system', and works by flooding the lungs with oxygen, calms the mind and reduces any stresses that may be keeping you awake.

While in bed, exhale completely out through the mouth making a 'whoosh' sound, then close your mouth and inhale through your nose for a count of four.

Hold your breath for a count of seven, then exhale completely out through your mouth for a count of eight, again while making the 'whoosh' sound.

Watch the full video on how to do it here.

4: It aids digestion

Your body uses oxygen to create energy, so a lack of oxygen can lead to discomfort throughout the body.

One of the main places this is witnessed in is the gut, with symptoms such as bloating and cramps.

By slowing down and breathing properly, we increase blood flow throughout the body, helping the digestive organs work more efficiently and speeding up the metabolism.

It can also help stabilise and balance blood sugar levels, meaning you're less likely to overeat.

Moreover, deep breathing is believed to lower acidity levels in the body (which increase when we're stressed), therefore reduces inflammation.

5: It makes you more 'present'

We're all guilty of dwelling on past events and allowing our mind to race ahead to things that haven't even taken place yet, both of which increase stress, anxiety and depression.

But doing any one of the above breathing exercises, even just for a short period of time, encourages you to be present by focusing on the simple act of breathing.

Slowing down and being mindful allows to you reconnect with the 'now' and is proven to help manage feelings of depression and anxiety. Give it a go today.

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