Get stressed, and the first thing to disappear is your normal way of breathing. When our days get hectic, our respiration rate increases, says respiratory therapist Trish Blakely, clinical director for Palmetto Respiratory Inc., in Columbia, S.C. Generally, adults take eight to 16 breaths per minute, but when we start sweating a deadline or cursing the kamikaze drivers who are sabotaging our commute, that rate can almost triple, to as many as 36 breaths a minute. We also inhale shallowly from the top of the chest.
Those short, rapid breaths constrict your blood vessels. They really destabilize you physiologically, says Robert Fried, Ph.D., author of Breathe Well, Be Well.
Over time, the stress puts quite a load on the cardiovascular system, and those blood vessels get worn out, which contributes to heart disease,
Breathing slowly and deeply relieves that stress on the heart, helping to bring the heart rate and blood pressure to a healthy level, while also increasing your mental alertness and boosting your energy. Whats more, studies show that slow-breathing exercises can also make folks with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease feel better and rely less on inhalers and other medications.
Whenever you feel tense or cranky, get your calm on with the breathing exercises below.
A Real Belly Breath
- Sit up straight on a chair in front of a mirror, with a hard-cover book standing up in your lap and resting gently against your belly. Keep your mouth closed. Rest your left palm gently on your chest and your right hand gently on the back of the book.
- Now slowly inhale and push the book out with your belly. To do this, youll be forced to perform whats called diaphragmatic breathing. Focus on moving the book, not on your breathing. Youll notice that your left hand moves only slightly.
- Slowly draw the book (and your belly) back while exhaling. Your right hand should follow the book back. Do this three or four times, then rest a minute before doing it again.
- Repeat the cycle four times. Dont make yourself nuts by counting how long it takes you to breathe in and out, advises Fried just stay calm and trust your body. When youre comfortable expanding your belly on the inhale and collapsing it on the exhale, you can dispense with the book and mirror, and simply rest your right hand lightly on your tummy instead.
Waiting to Exhale
This one you can do anywhere even in traffic or at work!
- With your mouth closed, slowly inhale through your nose for about 5 or 6 seconds.
- Hold the breath for 2 to 3 seconds.Exhale slowly through your mouth, taking up to 8 seconds.
Concentrate on this slow and steady breathing pattern for a minute or two. Notice how much better you feel afterward.