It doesn’t come any more fundamental than breathing. Breathing is the first and last thing we do in life. Our life begins with a breath in begins and it ends with a breath out. We are born knowing how to breathe properly; the baby’s tummy bulges out as it takes its breaths in. As adults, most of us have forgotten this and breathe pretty much only using our upper chests.
As with sleeping, proper breathing is a core element to dealing with stress. The way we live our lives now doesn’t lend itself to breathing as we are evolved to do. The way we work, the way we dress, the way we hold ourselves, the levels of stress we have: all these things mean we breathe in a very shallow way often only using 5% of our diaphragm’s capacity. This has widespread physiological effects on our body that can manifest in a myriad of ways including tingling in the fingers, headaches and even back pain.
The problems that can be caused by breathing dysfunctions and the mechanics behind these conditions is a hugely complex area but thankfully, fixing the problem can be quite straightforward. Osteopathic treatment plays a large part but so does re-learning how to breathe properly. In times of stress such as now, it’s even more important that we breathe properly. And let’s not ignore the obvious. If we’re going to have to deal with coronavirus then knowledge of this becomes even more crucial.
In essence, breathing is extremely simple. You breathe in, you breathe out. Simple. But there’s a huge breadth of research and studies that look at different ways of breathing and how they can help us in different ways. Here we look at a few that are very relevant to the current issues facing us but first, the basics
Rest one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Breathe normally. Which hand moves? The one on your chest? If so, you’re in the majority but it needs to be the one on your stomach. Try it again. Try and breathe in a way that means your stomach rises up. That’s how to breathe properly. Once you’ve got the hang of this put both hands around the side of the bottom of your rib cage. You want to still have the stomach rising and falling with the breath but you also want to feel the bottom ribs expanding outward.
This style of breathing is really useful to those with any kind of respiratory or breathing issue such as asthma and COPD but has recently been used for those recovering from coronavirus. It really maximises the use of the lungs getting them to really expand. Here’s how:
Sitting or lying on your back, rest your hands on the side of your rib cage. Take a breath in feeling the side of your ribcage expand out.
Hold this breath for 5 seconds
Let the breath go squeezing your ribs in as you do so to help really empty them
Repeat this 5 times. It may well lead to you coughing, If it does that’s fine; it’s all part of it.
Then lay on your stomach with a pillow or similar under your stomach. Breathe in in a 2:1 pattern ie breathe in for twice as long as you breathe out. You may find it helpful to count in for 2 and out for 1 beat. Do this for 10 minutes. Most of your lung capacity is at the back of the lungs so doing this really helps fill the lungs.
Stay calm and keep breathing
‘Coherent breathing’ is a fantastic way of dealing with day to day stress. It was first described by Dr Stephen Elliott in 2005. It helps to re-balance and ground ourselves through its effect on our blood flow. Again, it’s really simple but effective.
Simply breathe in through the nose steadily for a count of 6. Then breathe out for a count of 6. Repeat 6 times
If you find yourself in a state of acute anxiety and quickly need to calm yourself, the ‘Ha’ breath, taken from yoga, can be really effective. Take a breath in through the nose. Breathe out through a wide open mouth in a way that makes the ‘ha’ sound. Repeat 5 times
Breathing for sleeping
Again simple; again, effective! The cycle to remember this time is 4-7-8.
So, you breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 7 and breathe out for 8 and repeat a few times.
It doesn’t matter how slowly or quickly you count to 4, 7 or 8. It’s the ratio that’s important not the speed.
For more tips on getting a good night’s sleep, read our blog on good habits for a good night’s sleep!
All the above are specialised breathing techniques that are backed by research and shown to be effective. Try them all out so if you need them, you’ve already practised them. They should feel comfortable and relaxing. If you feel any ill effects such as dizziness or headaches then stop the technique. If this happens, please get in touch.
If you do nothing else though, try the basic belly breathing described at the beginning. Just having this awareness of how to breathe fully will lead to you doing it more through the day. If you do this a few times a day, you will be calmer, less stressed and better able to deal with the current challenges of life under the lockdown.