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Boost or calm yourself through breathing

Breathing is an activity we perform thousands of times per day without thinking, and yet it is absolutely essential for life. Research indicates that the way we breathe has a multitude of effects on our physical and mental health. By altering our pattern of breathing we can choose if we want to feel calm or alert depending on the situation.

When we inhale the diaphragm moves down creating more space in the heart cavity and increasing the heart volume. Blood moves slower through a larger space, and this is detected by a receptor called the sinoatrial node (SAN). SAN sends signal to the brain to say that blood pressure is lower in the heart which in turn sends signals back causing the heart rate to speed up. The opposite is true when we exhale- the diaphragm moves up, leading to less volume, pressure increases, and the brain sends signals to slow the heart rate down.

One of the primary ways to alter our state is through the regulation of the autonomic nervous system. Rapid breathing activates the sympathetic nervous system, or the so-called ‘fight or flight’ system, which prepares the body for action. This system pumps stress hormones like cortisol, increases heart rate and vigilance which can be useful in the morning to boost productivity, in the afternoon to avoid sugar cravings, before a workout to get the oxygen flowing or any important task that requires alertness. However chronic activation of this state can lead to high blood pressure and anxiety. In case of depression, panic attacks or high stress levels you definitely want to avoid this type of breathing.

Slow breathing can counteract these effects thanks to the vagus nerve that runs from your neck down through the diaphragm and tells your brain to turn down the sympathetic nervous system and to turn up the parasympathetic nervous system which controls your rest, relax, and digest response. While it’s dominant, your breathing slows, your blood pressure lowers and your heart rate drops, ultimately alleviating anxiety states.

You can find multiple breathing techniques but here are a few you can easily use in your everyday life.

To calm you down :

- ‘The Physiological Sigh’ can help you regain control quickly from feelings of stress and anxiety.

How to practice :

·Use two quick inhales through the nose followed by a long exhale through the nose. Repeat as much as necessary.

- Box breathing ( used by the navy seals) moves at < 4 breaths per minute.

When you reduce your breath below 4 breaths per minute, it triggers a strong parasympathetic nervous system response.

This practice should be done seated or lying down, and never while driving or doing anything standing or active.

How to Practice:

·Sit down or lie down in bed

·Inhale through your nose to the count of 1-2-3-4

·Hold 1-2-3-4

·Exhale through your nose to the count of 4-3-2-1

·Hold 4-3-2-1

·Repeat for at least 10 rounds (approx 10 min)

·Practice only while seated or lying down (never while driving)

To wind you up :

- Coffee Breath (or breath of fire) moves at > 20 breaths per minute.

Rapid breathing reduces CO2 in the bloodstream which leads to constriction of your breathing passageways and veins, so it should be practiced briefly, with care, and only at appropriate times. Never practice while driving.

How to Practice:

·Sit down on the floor or in a chair

·Exhale sharply through your nose as if sneezing

·Keep your face, neck, shoulders, and chest still while you “sneeze” the air out

·After you force the air out, relax and let the partial inhale happen all on its own

·Repeat for 20 rounds


·Repeat for 20 rounds


·Repeat a third time

Do not practice this for more than 10 minutes (total).

- Double Breathing

This rapid breathing technique activates the breath in short bursts. It’s these active movements that excite the sympathetic nervous system and make you more alert.

How to practice :

·Inhale through the nose with a short, sharp inhalation followed directly by a long, strong inhale.

·Then without pausing, exhale through the nose and mouth with a short, then long exhale.

·Repeat 5 times then pause for a short break before beginning your next round.

To find balance :

- Focused breathing

Also called Wim Hof breathing method, it acutely activates the Sympathetic Nervous System for a short period and with the production of adrenaline, it helps to increase white blood cell production and a reduction in inflammation. Adrenaline produced for short amounts of time is very beneficial to activate multiple bodily functions.

It helps our immune system and reduces inflammation by becoming more regulated and less reactive.

With the Sympathetic Nervous System being activated for a short period the body counteracts by the Parasympathetic Nervous System kicking in which brings about all the benefits of recovery and leaves you feeling in a state of relaxation.

Perform the Wim Hof Method in the morning will leave you feeling extremely energized but at the same time relaxed and alert for the rest of the day.

How to practice :

·30 deep breaths without fully exhaling each time

·Hold as long as you can

·Exhale what’s left

·Then deep breath and hold for 15 seconds

·Repeat a second time

·Repeat a third time

(Use any breathing app that features wim hof to help you)

And you, what type of breathing are you using?

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