During stressful situations we rarely stop to think about what is happening within our bodies. Indeed, the pressures of the moment keep our minds occupied on almost everything but our physiological functions. Consequently, those functions often become irregular, leaving us in an unhealthy state of being. When we are in this state, we have fewer chances to succeed in whatever we try to accomplish.
Among the many physiological functions adversely affected by stress is our breathing. Even when stress is minimal few people retain a habit of natural, full breathing which is required for maintaining a good mental and physical state. Proper breathing is essential for sustaining life and cleansing inner body systems. By learning proper breathing techniques stressful situations may be handled better and overall mental and physical health will be improved.
Breathing: The Importance of Oxygen
Oxygen plays a vital role in the circulatory and respiratory systems. As we breathe, oxygen that is inhaled purifies our blood by removing poisonous waste products circulating throughout our blood systems. Irregular breathing will hamper this purification process and cause waste products to remain in circulation. Digestion will then become irregular, leaving tissues and organs undernourished. Improper oxygen consumption will thus ultimately lead to fatigue and heightened anxiety states. The irregular breathing elicited during stressful situations not only make them hard to cope with, but also contribute to a general deterioration of health. By the careful control of our breathing pattern, we may not only rejuvenate our systems but counter the unhealthy effects of stress.
Breathing methods are useful to settle the body and mind and induce a heightened sense of awareness. Breathing exercises have been practiced for thousands of years in the East. The West began studying the effectiveness and importance of them several years ago. By this time, sufficient research has taken place in the West to verify the usefulness of these techniques.
The following breathing methods can be helpful for reducing anger, anxiety, depression, fatigue, irritability, muscular tension, and stress.
While breathing is a function most people take for granted, rarely is it practiced in a proper fashion. Before beginning any technique, it is essential that you learn how to breath properly and fully:
- Lie down on a rug or blanket on the floor with your legs straight and slightly apart, your toes pointed comfortably outwards, arms at your sides not touching your body, your palms up, and your eyes closed. This is called a "relaxed body" position. Take time to relax your body and breathe freely.
- It is best to breathe through your nose as the tiny hairs and mucous membranes filter out dust and toxins from the inhaled air. Keep your mouth closed as you breathe.
- As you breathe, your chest and abdomen should move together. If only the chest seems to rise and fall, your breathing is shallow and you are not making good use of the lower part of your lungs. As you inhale you should feel your abdomen rising; it is as if your stomach is filling with air. As you exhale, the abdomen comes back in, like a balloon releasing all of its air. This inhale and exhale process should continue comfortably and smoothly. The chest and abdomen should rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale. The chest should move only slightly.
Deep, Relaxed Breathing
Although this exercise can be practiced in a variety of poses, the following is recommended for beginners:
- Lie down on a blanket or rug on the floor. Bend your knees and move your feet about eight inches apart, with your toes turned outward slightly. Make sure your spine is straight.
- Place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose into your abdomen to push up your hand as much as feels comfortable. Your chest should move only a little and only with your abdomen.
- Continue step three until it becomes rhythmic and comfortable. Now smile slightly, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, making a quiet, breezy sound as you gently blow out. Your mouth, tongue and jaw will be relaxed. Take long, slow, deep breaths raising and lowering your abdomen. Hear the sound and feel the texture of breathing as you become more and more relaxed.
- When you first begin this technique, do it for five minutes. When you become more comfortable with it, you may extend it up to 20 minutes.
- Upon ending a session, stay still for a few minutes and try to keep the entire body relaxed.
- The purpose of this technique is to develop a good, relaxing breathing method. It may be practiced anytime, especially during stressful situations.
The Relaxing Sigh
Sighing and yawning during the day are signs that you are not getting enough oxygen. A sigh releases a bit of tension and can be practiced at will as a means of relaxing.
- Sit or stand up straight.
- Sigh deeply, letting out a sound of deep relief as the air rushes out of your lungs.
- Let new air come in naturally.
- Repeat this procedure eight to twelve times whenever you feel the need for it, and experience the feeling of relaxation.
The Clenched Fist
This exercise will stimulate your breathing, circulation and nervous system.
- Stand up straight, hands at your sides.
- Inhale and hold a complete natural breath as described above.
- Raise your arms out in front of you, keeping them up and relaxed.
- Gradually bring your hands to your shoulders. As you do, slowly contract your hands into fists so that when they reach your shoulders they are clenched as tight as possible.
- Keep the fists tense as you push your arms out straight again very slowly.
- Pull your arms back to your shoulders and straighten them out, fists tense, as fast as you can, several times.
This exercise combines the relaxing benefits of deep, relaxed breathing with the curative value of positive auto-suggestions.
- Lie down on a rug or blanket on the floor in a "relaxed body" pose.
- Place your hands gently on your solar plexus (that point where your ribs start to separate above your abdomen) and practice deep, relaxed breathing for a few minutes.
- Imagine that with each incoming breath of air energy is rushing into your lungs and being immediately stored in your solar plexus. Imagine that as you exhale, this energy is flowing out to all parts of your body. Form a mental picture of this energizing process.
- Continue on a daily basis for at least five to ten minutes a day.
The Rolling Breath
The following exercise requires a partner and is effective in relaxing and energizing you.
- Lie on your back. Have your partner put one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest.
- Inhale and exhale as in deep, relaxed breathing, but each inhale is taken in two stages--abdomen, then chest. Imagine that you are breathing into your partner's hand as you fill your belly with air. When your abdomen feels full, continue breathing into your chest. Watch your partner's hands as it rises.
- Exhale fully through the chest and belly simultaneously.
- Repeat. It is important to keep a rhythmic rolling effect between abdomen and chest. Breathe at your natural pace, however.
Any of the above techniques can and should be practiced everyday. Being a natural preventive measure for stress, there are very few side effects. It will take some time before you observe any profound changes within your body and mind taking place, but practice diligently and patiently. You will eventually realize that you have more energy and are much more relaxed.
If you would like to learn more about Breathing Methods, call or stop by the Counseling Center to make an appointment to talk with a counselor. The Counseling Center is located across from the Lee Drain Building, next to the Farrington Building. The telephone number is (936) 294-1720.
Sam Houston Counseling Center
1608 Avenue J., Box 209 | Huntsville, TX 77341-2059 | Phone: 936.294.1720 | Fax: 936.294.2639