Holistic Mental Health Approach: Breathing!

Oct 25, 2023
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In our fast-paced world, it's easy to overlook the simple act of breathing. We often take it for granted, but the way we breathe can have a profound impact on our mental and physical health.

In the book "Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art" by James Nestor, the author delves into the fascinating world of breathing, shedding light on the stark contrast between shallow and deep breathing. This blog will explore the differences between these two breathing techniques and introduce three effective methods to practice deep or belly breathing. 

Shallow vs. Deep Breathing

Shallow breathing, also known as chest breathing, is a common pattern in today's society. It involves taking rapid, shallow breaths that primarily expand the chest. Shallow breathers may inhale and exhale quickly without fully utilizing their lung capacity. This form of breathing can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and other health problems. The restricted flow of oxygen can make the body feel tense, raising cortisol levels and perpetuating a cycle of stress.

On the other hand, deep breathing, also referred to as diaphragmatic or belly breathing, involves a slower and more deliberate breath pattern. When you take a deep breath, the diaphragm contracts and moves downward, expanding the lower part of your lungs. This allows for a more efficient exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, promoting relaxation and reducing stress.

Three Techniques for Deep Breathing

  1. Diaphragmatic Breathing:

    • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down.
    • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
    • Inhale slowly through your nose, allowing your abdomen to rise and expand as you fill your lungs.
    • Exhale through your mouth, gently contracting your abdominal muscles to push the air out.
    • Repeat this process for several minutes, focusing on the rise and fall of your abdomen with each breath.
  2. 4-7-8 Breathing:

    • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
    • Inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
    • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
    • Exhale completely through your mouth to a count of eight.
    • Repeat this cycle a few times, gradually increasing the number of cycles as you become more comfortable with the technique.
  3. Box Breathing:

    • Sit or stand with your back straight.
    • Inhale through your nose for a count of four seconds.
    • Hold your breath for four seconds.
    • Exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of four seconds.
    • Pause and hold your breath for four seconds before repeating the cycle.
    • Continue this pattern for a few minutes.

Mental Health Benefits of Deep Breathing

Deep breathing can significantly improve your mental well-being in the following ways:

  1. Stress Reduction: Deep breathing triggers the body's relaxation response, lowering cortisol levels and promoting a sense of calm and relaxation.

  2. Anxiety Management: Practicing deep breathing techniques can help reduce symptoms of anxiety, including racing thoughts and a racing heart.

  3. Improved Focus: Deep breathing enhances oxygen flow to the brain, aiding concentration and cognitive function.

  4. Emotional Regulation: Deep breathing can help you better manage your emotions, fostering a sense of emotional balance and resilience.

The simple act of breathing can be a powerful tool for enhancing your mental health and overall well-being. Shifting from shallow to deep breathing through techniques like diaphragmatic breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, and box breathing can be transformative. By incorporating these practices into your daily routine, you can experience a greater sense of calm, reduced stress, and improved mental health. As James Nestor explores in "Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art," our breath is a precious resource we should not take for granted and mastering the art of deep breathing can unlock its profound benefits for our lives.