Most of us busy people do not breathe well or correctly. The stresses of life usually take over our thoughts and minds, often manifesting into physical changes in our bodies that can progress to real problems and ailments. People tend to ‘hold their stress’ in different parts of their bodies and, when stressed, could suffer from a chronic sore neck, headaches, back pain, gastrointestinal dysfunction, or poor sleep patterns.
In general, breathing exercises are a great way to meditate, calm one’s nervous system and reduce the physical effects that stress can have on your body. Breathing techniques have been used in the oldest form of exercise, yoga, for centuries, to cleanse, heal and awaken oneself. Respiratory exercises are also the first exercises given by a physiotherapist post-surgery, or to anyone who presents in hospital for a long-duration stay. This is because breathing correctly is important and not everyone knows how to do it.
In stressful situations, and in most everyday situations, most people would like to stay calm, increase their awareness and be able to act, rather than ‘run away’ or ‘freeze’. In order to do this we ideally want to increase the oxygen levels in our blood so we are more alert, lower our heart rate so we can focus, and relax our nervous system so we can act. Try the following exercise and see if you can feel the immediate positive effect:
- Sit in a comfortable position in a chair or on the floor, bottom, back and feet supported.
- Place your hands on your lower ribs, relax your neck and shoulders and close your eyes.
- Take a breath in for 4 seconds, feeling that you are filling your lower ribs (lungs) with air. Hold for 4 seconds and release the air for another 4 seconds. Repeat this 3 times.
- If you have some more time, repeat the above with 6 and then 8 second inhalations, holds and exhalations. Note how relaxed you feel after these 9 breaths in and out.
You can’t always control the world around you, but you can always control the way you react to it. Happy holidays and remember to breathe!
Beth Sackville (Physiotherapist)