It’s no news to you that we live in a very fast-paced society. It seems like it’s all about getting something, somewhere, and sometime faster or quicker–and then even faster and quicker than that.
And while you may not be able to control the things outside of you, there’s one thing that only you can control: your breath.
It’s amazing we breathe all the time, yet we don’t really give much thought about what it’s doing for us right this very second.
Medical texts say that a normal respiratory rate is between 8-12 breaths/minutes, but often times, especially if people are sick or in the hospital, it can be higher (up to 20 breaths/minute). I usually don’t see people around 8-12 unless they’re sedated and out of it.
If we don’t pay attention, our breath can become shallow and rapid as we try to keep up with the fast-paced world, which contributes to retaining CO2 (carbon dioxide, an acidic by product of breathing) leading to anxiety, unclear thinking/dizziness, inability to hold your breath, and even numbness. You can read more about CO2 retention here.
Fortunately for us, we have the ability to change all that just by (you guessed it), taking a deep breath.
Deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, is a powerful + super simple tool that can be done anytime, anywhere.
With practice, you can change your breathing pattern, but it starts with one breath.
Here’s 7 ways it keeps your mind + body healthy and how to do it.
By Moving Air Completely In + Out of Your Lungs, You:
- Improve blood circulation in the body.
Deep breathing improves circulation by creating a more effective movement of air which allows better oxygenation of the blood.
2. Detoxify the body by moving cell waste out through the lungs with each breath.
Just as the kidneys detoxify urine, the lungs detoxify both what you breathe in and what we breathe out. The most significant cell waste being CO2, which is acidic. Deep breathing helps remove CO2 and prevents retaining it.
3. Stimulates the Vagus nerve, which innervates through every system in the body. Why is stimulating the Vagus important?
The Vagus nerve innervates every systems in the body. Reasons 4-7 focus on the benefits of stimulating the Vagus nerve.
The Vagus nerve:
4. Activates our “rest + digest” parasympathetic system.
The Vagus sends signals to the brain to release the right hormones, neurotransmitters, enzymes, and proteins needed for relaxing our system.
5. Counteracts our “fight or flight” stress system + reduces stress.
By releasing those chemicals to help you relax, it also counters the effects of your stress hormone cortisol.
6. Calms our minds + improves mental clarity and decision making
As the parasympathetic system takes over, our tunnel vision can open up, and we can make better rationale decisions.
7. Deep breathing improves vagal tone, strength + resilience
Breathing is an exercise for your insides, specifically the diaphragm, which is the primary muscles used for breathing and for toning the vagus.
Improving vagal tone can:
- Lower your heart rate
- Lower blood pressure
- Help properly digest your food (ironically, a big stressor to your body)
- Reduce inflammation,
- Help you breathe more deeply + re-calibrate your rate of breathing
- Help you become less constricted in general through relaxation
All of this releases stress by allowing you to let it go.
So, the takeaway here is that the Vagus is a badass nerve that does a lot for us and we can help it out by showing the Vagus nerve some love by breathing more. Deep breathing is beneficial because it moves stuff around better, moves not-so-good stuff out, and stimulates the Vagus nerve.
How to Deep Breathe (4-4-8 Box Breathing):
- Sit up straight, inhale through your nose over 4 seconds, expanding your belly + chest.
- Hold your breath in for 4 seconds.
- Slowly exhale through your nose or mouth over 8 seconds.
- Hold for 2 seconds before the next inhalation.
- Repeat Steps 1-4 for at least 10 times, 5 minutes, or as long as it takes for your to feel relaxed.
While you’re breathing, at first, it’s easy to get distracted and lose count of what you’re doing, but part of the calming effect comes from focusing on the breathing instead of your mind wandering all over the place. Like with any skill, the more you practice, the easier it gets.
To help you get the most benefit of deep breathing, focus on the air entering, filling, and leaving your lungs + nose instead of your thoughts–like that never ending to-do list or all of the “I could/should be doing” thoughts. Repeating affirmations can also help keep you focused.
Try repeating these affirmations to help your mind from wandering:
- Inhale: “I am here.”
- Hold: “The time is now.”
- Exhale: “I am calm, strong, and healthy.”
After you’re comfortable with 4-4-8, challenge yourself with 4-7-8 to continue strengthening the Vagus.
Need a little more guidance?
Here are some tools to help you out:
- Insight Timer App, which has ton of free guided breathing exercises
- HeartMath’s free course
- This album by Stephen Halpern on Spotify
- Even GIFs like this one from Destress Monday can be helpful:
- Do this daily with something you do every day, like brushing your teeth.
- Set a reminder on your phone or put a note where you will see it.
- Start with 10 breaths, and don’t rush.
- Aim for 3x/day for at least 5 minutes.
- Regular practice will help change your breathing pattern naturally.
- Be mindful of tension in your body while breathing. This is a great opportunity to release + relax if you notice any.
- For added detox benefits, deep breathe with a Dry Inhaler filled with Himalayan Pink Salt (great for a lingering cough, airway inflammation, respiratory infections + thinning mucous).
- The more you deep breathe, the stronger your Vagus gets.
- If you’re already breathing (you are ;)), you can literally do this any time, anywhere.
- If you feel like you don’t have time to do this, you need it the most.
- There are infinite ways to deep breathe, this is just one technique. Check out Wimhof breathing for intensive + effective breathing techniques.
- Practice it now before you need it, so you’re not trying to learn it when you need it (i.e. if you’ve never driven a stick shift, you don’t try to learn for the first time on the the highway or ice. You practice first ahead of time before you need it in those situations–same concept).
Want to make better food choices?
Hi, I’m Melissa!
I’m a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner dedicated whole foods nutrition and helping people make better food choices easy so they can find + meet the right health goals for their bodies.