Deep summer is the perfect time to practice today's Monday Health Basics tip: the air is warm, the sun might be out (or trying to make an appearance!); it's the time of year that commitments for our time are at a minimum. For some the impending weeks ahead with school start up and a return to work may be looming on the horizon. This is the perfect time to add this tool to your arsenal: breathe deeply.
The science behind the deep breath
- When stress levels are elevated, we tend to breathe more shallow.
- When we are in the sympathetic nervous system mode, we are on high alert and getting ready to fight or flight. Short shallow breaths are a part of the picture.
- Shallow breathing exacerbates or amplifies the stress response.
- Taking deep breaths or being more mindful about our breath calms that stress response, and triggers a shift in our adrenal glands.
- Slowing our breath slows down our body's manufacturing of stress hormones.
- Slowing down the breath influences the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in – think rest + digest mode, sometimes called calm + connect.
- Slowing our breath allows our heart rate to return to normal. This allows our blood pressure to self-regulate.
- Slowing our breath allows our mental chatter to calm down.
- Slowing our breath allows our body to turn on digestion, allowing us to better break down foods into nutrients necessary for every cell of our body.
- Deep breathing is focusing on releasing carbon dioxide just as much as taking that oxygen in.
Why I love it:
- It's free.
- It works.
- It is your number one tool to bring down the ill effects of stress.
- It is a super tool in times of anxiety. Excellent at helping regulate a racing pulse.
- You can do it anywhere.
- You don't need special tools.
- It stimulates the vagus nerve.
- It invites you to that physical state where your body can focus on resting and recouping, digesting and doing repair work.
- It helps to relieve muscle tension that could be contributing to headaches or migraines, and other minor aches and pains.
- It also helps your brain grow, keeping brain atrophy at bay!
The How To:
- Sit up straight, reducing distractions around you (turn off the radio, put away your phone, take a break in the washroom if that's the only quiet place right now).
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of say, four or five.
- Breathe right down in to your belly, allowing your diaphragm to expand.
- Hold for a count of 4-8, building on this with time.
- Release the air through your mouth on a count of eight or ten, essentially twice as long as you spent taking that breath in.
- Do this at least 10 times, in a quiet spot.
If you like or are able, you can close your eyes to help create that safe space.
Try visualization at this point if it would help; use your mind's eye to see a restful space, a spot in the woods, your favourite place. It all contributes.
If you're able to extend this into a 20 minute mindfulness or meditation practice, you will be doing wonders for your brain, heart, immune and overall health. Start your day with this kind of deep breathing and mindfulness exercise, and you will see how setting this calm intention at the beginning of your day may be of benefit to you. End your day with this kind of deep breathing and mindfulness exercise, and you will see how this could improve your ability to fall asleep and perhaps stay asleep better, longer.
Share this tip with the littles in your life: they too need help manoeuvring through this life.