Despite my growing spiritual inclinations, but I was always skeptical about breathing and its ability to calm me down. I would go ballistic if someone was to tell me to “take a breath”, I used to think it was actually a little insulting. Nowadays things have changed. I’ve made a ritual of starting my daily meditation with box breathing; a method that I’ll explain further below. This calms me down instantly and I do mean instantly. So what is it about breathing and what’s all the hype about?
The good thing about breathing is that it is an unconscious involuntary action that’s a basic life requirement. And since ancient history people have known that taking long deep breaths has a calming effect on people but they couldn’t quite pinpoint the connection. Well now scientists have discovered that there is a neural pathway in our brains that does the work of calming us down when we do breathing exercises.
If you could allow me to get a bit more scientific I promise to be brief. The main region that controls breathing rhythms in our brains is called the pre-Bötzinger complex. Recently, scientists have found that there is a subset of neurons in the pre-Bötzinger complex that directly transmits signals to a region of the brain that regulates “feelings of alertness, attention, and stress”. This discovery is good news as it means that pharmaceutical companies can then be able to develop medications that mimic the work of these neurons, meaning they can mimic the effect of deep breathing. This is especially good news for those who suffer panic attacks and cannot control their breathing during an attack.
But for those of us normal folk, and now that you have scientific evidence that breathing is directly connected to your mental state, how about we engage in some breathing exercises. Below are a number of breathing exercises you can try this second to calm anxieties and induce a sense of calm, including the box breathing exercise I mentioned earlier.
– Inhale through your nose to the count of four.
– Hold it for four counts.
– Exhale to the count of four or six.
– Hold it for four counts and repeat.
– Sit in a kneeling position with your bottom on your feet and your hands extended in front of you, or you can sit cross-legged.
– Take a breath through your nose.
– Exhale through your mouth while mouthing a loud “ha”.
– During exhale open your mouth wide and you can even try sticking out your tongue as far as you can.
– Relax your face and inhale again.
– Repeat up to six times, halfway through switch your crossed ankles or legs.
– Breath normally and do a body scan while you’re breathing.
– Now take a long slow breath through your nose.
– Notice how your belly and chest are expanding.
– Exhale comfortably, sighing if you like.
– Do this for a few minutes while focusing on the rise and fall of your belly.
– Choose a calming word to use as a mantra to focus on during your exhales; ‘safe, peace, or calm’ are good choices.
– Visualise your inhale washing over you like a wave.
– Visualise your exhale washing away the toxins and negativity.
– If you get distracted, bring your attention back to your mantra.
– Aim to practice this for 20 minutes a day.
– Exhale your lungs completely.
– Breath in quietly through your nose for 4 seconds.
– Hold the breath for 7 seconds.
– Exhale forcefully through your mouth for 8 seconds, purse your lips and make a whooshing sound while you exhale.
– Repeat for 4 times.