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Breathing for relaxation: how to do it

Are you feeling under pressure? Has the global pandemic left you increasingly anxious? If so, breathing for relaxation can help. According to the American Psychological Society, more than three-quarters of Americans (78%) report that COVID-19 is a significant source of stress in their lives. The good news is, calming breathing practices used in ancient yoga and meditation traditions have been proven to ease tension and soothe the mind. Here yoga teacher, counselor, and holistic health practitioner, Eve Boggenpoel has taken a look at the science behind breathing for relaxation and shows how it activates the rest and digest branch of your nervous system to help you find a better balance in life. All you need is some time for yourself, a quiet place to practice in and a yoga mat.  

If you’d like to learn more about the practice of yoga then check out our features on whether yoga is a religion and how to improve your flexibility.

What are the benefits of relaxation breathing?

Breathing for relaxation is nothing new. Originally used to prepare the body for meditation, yoga and mindfulness practitioners believed concentrating on the breath could calm the mind by giving the brain something to focus on. Now, these early theories have been confirmed by modern-day research at the Emory University School of Medicine, which confirms that slow deep breathing is helpful in the management of anxiety and depression. In fact, breathing for relaxation is so effective at calming the system it has a measurable physiological effect. A review of existing studies published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that even short-term slow breathing techniques can reduce your resting heart rate and lower blood pressure.

Breathing for relaxation: image shows woman in chair practising breathing exercises

(Image credit: Getty)

So what exactly is the relationship between your breath and state of mind? According to Kat Farrants, founder of Movement for Modern Life, when you’re feeling stressed, your breathing becomes faster and more shallow. This is because your brain has activated your sympathetic nervous system (SNS), one of three branches of your autonomic nervous system. Also known as the fight or flight response, the SNS instructs your body’s systems to protect you from perceived threats. Farrants explained that the reason your breathing rate increases is to allow your body to take in more oxygen. Your heart will also beat faster and contract more strongly in order to swiftly transport the newly oxygenated red blood cells to your larger muscles – all of which will allow you to better defend yourself or run away from danger.

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