Do you often breathe with your mouth? Are you regularly stressed? If that sounds like you, you may benefit from a simple, nasal breathing technique.
It’s estimated that 80% of people have suboptimal breathing patterns, which worsens stress, impairs sleep, and reduces energy levels.
In this brief article, you will learn what suboptimal breathing looks like and how it worsens stress, you will understand the basic components of optimal breathing, and you will be guided through a simple breathing exercise that you can practice at any time.
Stress and Suboptimal Breathing
Breathing is a fundamental part of being human. We take around 25,000 breaths per day and each breath has the potential to support or challenge our well-being.
Certain breathing patterns can create additional stress and negatively impact our well-being. These include breathing through the mouth, using only the upper chest to breathe, taking shallow breaths, or taking too frequent breaths. These methods of breathing throw off the balance of gasses in our bodies, like oxygen and carbon dioxide, which we need fine-tuned to function properly.
If you mainly breathe through your mouth, you're not getting enough oxygen to your cells, and this can increase your likelihood of feeling anxious and stressed. Some signs that your breathing may not be optimal are feeling tired quickly when you exercise, often feeling as if you can't get enough air, snoring or having sleep apnea, waking up with a dry mouth, or having frequent pain in your back or neck.
It’s normal and actually beneficial to breathe small, shallow breaths when anxious or afraid, because this puts you in the fight-or-flight response, so you’re alert and ready to respond to trouble. However, when you get in the habit of shallow mouth breathing, you keep your body in this stress response state, and that takes a toll.
If you think you have suboptimal breathing patterns, it’s never too late to learn more healthy methods of breathing to reduce your stress and benefit your overall well-being.
Understanding Optimal Breathing
Optimal breathing doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, you want it to be simple enough to seamlessly integrate into your daily life. The benefits of optimal breathing include reduced stress hormones, strengthened immune system, increased energy, lowered blood pressure and heart rate, and increased feelings of calm.
Two key features of a healthy breath are breathing in through the nose and breathing slowly, specifically 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out. It’s that simple. Out of all the breathing techniques out there, this is a consistent factor throughout most of them.
Nasal breathing slows the breath, engages your diaphragm, increases lung volume, and increases oxygenation by 20 percent with each breath. Breathing in for 5 seconds and out for 5 seconds is a longer breath than most of us take. This slower breath automatically calms your nervous system and helps your entire body function more efficiently.
Simple Nasal Breathing Exercise
Let’s walk you through a simple, 1-minute breathing exercise that will reduce your stress and improve your overall well-being.
- Find a private space where you feel safe.
- Sit on a chair, the floor, or anywhere else that’s comfortable.
- Sit up straight, but not too stiff, to help you feel relaxed and alert at the same time.
- You are going to guide yourself through 5, slow nasal breaths.
- It may help to keep track of your breaths with your fingers.
- Now close your eyes and take 5 nasal breaths, 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out with each one.
Note how you feel now compared to how you felt before this exercise. Even just 5, slow nasal breaths can bring you back to a state of balance.
The beauty of this practice is that you don’t need to listen to a guided recording. You can lean on this practice whenever you need to regain a sense of balance, and it only takes one minute.
Let’s process what that nasal breathing exercise was like for you. Think through the following questions on your own time:
- How do you feel after slowly breathing through your nose?
- Was it challenging or easy?
- Do you want to continue practicing nasal breathing?
- If so, how often will you practice?
- How will you remind yourself to breathe slowly through your nose?
- What obstacles might get in the way? How will you overcome those obstacles?
If you have been breathing through your mouth for a long time, then it will take time to retrain yourself to breathe through your nose. Be patient with yourself.
The more you practice, the easier it will be to breathe slowly through your nose throughout your day, which will put you in a more consistent state of relaxation, rather than being stressed most of the time.
One simple way to train yourself to breathe through your nose is to set three alarms each day, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening. These will serve as a reminder to stop what you’re doing and breathe through your nose 5 times, 5 seconds in, and 5 seconds out each time.
If you need more help building this meditate practice into your life, see our Blog Article titled, Tips for Building Meditation Into Your Life.
Let’s review what we covered today.
You learned that suboptimal ways of breathing include breathing through your mouth, shallow breathing, and taking too frequent breaths, and these methods lead to increased stress.
You learned what optimal breathing looks like, specifically breathing through the nose for 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out, and how this method calms you down.
And finally, you were guided through a simple breathing exercise to not only calm you down when stressed, but also train yourself to breathe this way most of the time, to keep you in a state of calm.
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