Just breathe: 3 calming techniques to try at home

Even though breathing is essential for survival, we tend to do it on autopilot. But experts say good things can happen when you pay attention to your technique.

We breathe in and out about 22,000 times a day, but when was the last time you really thought about breathing, let alone how – exactly – you’re doing it?

“What’s interesting about the breath is that it’s right on the edge of conscious control,” co-lead author of a new Stanford Medicine study Professor David Spiegel says.

The study shows how a breathing technique called cyclic sighing can lower stress levels.

“Most of the time breathing is automatic, like digestion, heartbeat and other bodily functions, but you can very easily take over and control your breath, which then affects your overall physiology and stress response,” Prof Spiegel says.

How breathing shapes your brain

The results of another recent study, conducted by researchers at Denmark’s Aarhus University, also show that breathing is far more than just something we do to stay alive.

“What we found is that, across many different types of tasks and animals, brain rhythms are closely tied to the rhythm of our breath,” study author Professor Micah Allen says.

“We are more sensitive to the outside world when we are breathing in, whereas the brain tunes out more when we breathe out.

“It suggests that the brain and breathing are closely intertwined in a way that goes far beyond survival, to actually impact our emotions, our attention, and how we process the outside world.”

3 breathing techniques to try

The next time you are stressed or want to feel calmer, or when you next have a few minutes to spare, take one of these breathing techniques for a spin.

1. Cyclic sighing

Start by breathing in through your nose until you’ve comfortably filled your lungs then, rather than exhaling, take a second, deeper “sip of air” to expand your lungs as much as possible.

Next, exhale very slowly through your mouth until all the air is gone.

The calming effect should kick in after just a couple of breaths but for the full effect, try to cyclic-sigh for about five minutes.

2. Box breathing

Sometimes called square breathing or 4 x 4 breathing in reference to the fact that a box has four sides, box breathing is a form of yogic deep breathing.

To do it, breathe in through your nose as you slowly count to four; hold your breath for another count of four; exhale through your mouth for another count of four; and hold your breath for another count of four.

Repeat the cycle for three or four “squares”.

3. Wim Hof Method breathing

The Wim Hof Method is based on three pillars to help people become happier, healthier and stronger, with breathing being the first pillar.

To try Wim Hof Method breathing, get comfortable, close your eyes and clear your mind. Breathe in deeply through your nose or mouth, inhaling through your belly and your chest, then exhale through your mouth.

Repeat this 30 to 40 times in quick succession.

After the final exhalation, inhale one more time as deeply as you can, then let the air out and hold for as long as you can.

When you feel a strong urge to breathe, take a deep breath in and once you can’t take any more air in, hold the breath for 15 seconds before exhaling.

Complete this entire cycle three or four times in a row.

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Written by Karen Fittall.