How would you like to find a method to drastically reduce your stress? One that is free (you already own all the equipment you need) and only takes a few minutes a day. And if this method not only helped you to relax but also increased your energy, improved your circulation and immune function, helped to deepen your sleep and gave you a greater feeling of physical and mental wellbeing, would you do it?
It has been proved that simply learning how to breathe correctly can have these remarkable effects throughout your body.
Breathing is one of our most important body functions. You can survive without food for two months, without water for two weeks but without breath you will only live for a few minutes.
Most people only use only about twenty percent of the capacity of their lungs so just imagine how much potential you are wasting if your breath is limited. You have another eighty percent of breathing capacity, which means eighty percent more oxygenated blood flowing through every cell of your body, potentially bringing with it positive changes in your health and your stress levels.
Most of us are familiar with aerobic (in air) exercise, but what does this mean? In reality it is the oxygen in the air which is necessary for aerobic respiration. Aerobic respiration is the release of energy from glucose and other organic substances in the presence of oxygen. Healthy people who breathe effectively make 93 percent of their energy aerobically. We also eliminate 70 percent of our body’s waste though breathing. Aerobic exercise helps to get the oxygen flowing through your blood stream and into your organs, including that very important organ, your brain. You don’t have to go to aerobic exercise classes to re oxygenate your body (although you might choose to as part of you health regimen).
Normally breathing is an automatic body function, controlled by the brain. But you can also deliberately change your rate of breathing. Your brain sets your breathing rate according to carbon dioxide levels, rather than oxygen levels. When you are distressed or anxious, your chest area tends to tighten, your breathing becomes shallower and faster and your heartbeat also quickens. Because your breathing is shallow you feel that you are not taking in enough oxygen, so you breathe even faster to try to take in more air, building up a cycle which can result in over-breathing or hyperventilation. If this happens you are convinced that you need more air, when in reality you actually need to exhale more.
Breathing this way can prolong feelings of anxiety by increasing the physical symptoms of stress. Your body manufactures the ‘stress’ hormones cortisol and epinephrine – known as adrenaline. You are now in fight or flight mode, which means your body is preparing to survive by fighting or running away from danger. This is fine for Ugg the caveman. His stress is over as soon as he catches and eats T Rex for his dinner, or if he manages to escape from a predator who want to eat him for dinner. Either way his stress is resolved, and those stress hormones are no longer needed. They are replaced by endorphins such as serotonin – the ‘feel good’ hormone. If, on the other hand he is eaten by the predator, problem solved – stress gone!
In the busy world that we live in we are subject to stress for many hours of the day. Living with stress in the long term is harmful to your health and your happiness. Don’t get eaten by the predator that is stress, you can do something about it.
By learning to breathe fully and effectively you can reap many mental and physical benefits and you can learn to control your stress levels using just the air you breathe. Breathing correctly is as powerful as it is simple. Poor breathing habits can easily be reversed with a little practice. So, if you want to lower your blood pressure and heart rate, reduce your level of stress hormones, balance your body and the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood, improve your immune function, increase your energy levels and feel much calmer, try the following simple exercise.
The mainstay of relaxation breathing techniques is to be found in diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing. Your diaphragm is a large dome shaped muscle located between the bottom of your lungs and the top of your abdomen.
The best way to learn abdominal breathing is to begin by sitting up straight on a chair with your hands resting on your lap and your feet placed firmly on the floor. Slip your shoes off if you can.
When you are ready, close your eyes and begin to concentrate on your breathing. Take your time, just get used to the way you are breathing. Pay attention to the depth of your breath and its rhythm and pace.
Next, pay attention to which muscles you use when you breathe. Place one hand on your diaphragm (just under your ribs at the top of your stomach). Place the other hand on the upper part of your chest. Keep breathing normally and become aware of which hand is moving in and out as you breathe.
The majority of the movement should be under your lower hand. If not, adjust your breathing slowly until only your lower hand is moving. You are now using your diaphragm to control your breathing. This may take some getting used to. When you are comfortable with this, allow your hands to relax.
Breathing in this way provides the correct kind of exercise for your breathing muscles. When doing this exercise it is best to breathe in and out through your nose. Avoid clenching your teeth as this generates stress in your jaw area.
When you have become used to abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing, try this easy quick fix solution to stress. Consciously breathe in, hold your breath for a few seconds if you are comfortable doing that and then breathe out slowly. Relax your shoulders and allow your head to balance comfortably on your vertebrae and your rib cage to expand and contract with each breathe. The trick here is to make your out breath slower than your in breath. When you do this you send a signal to your central nervous system, via your brain, to relax.
Go gently, don’t try to take a longer or slower breath than you are comfortable with or you may feel dizzy. Taking a big deep breath is not necessary, better to take a conscious, easy breath. Practice this exercise and use it whenever you feel the least bit stressed. Take a few moments out of your day on a regular basis, breathe, and increase your sense of well being and begin to give yourself back control over you stress levels.
There is a saying: Breath is life, if you only take half a breath then you are only half alive.

Author's Bio: 

Sue Saunders is the founder of Insight Coaching and Training. She is a Master Life Coach and Clinical Hypnotherapist, she also teaches Personal Development courses, Tai Chi and Meditation. Sue works with her clients to free them from their limits and reach the heights of their potential.
She produces personal development CDs using traditional hypnotherapy techniques blended with the latest sound wave technology.