The Benefits of Deep Breathing

Did you know? The average resting adult takes about 16 breathes a minute—that’s 23,000 breaths a day! And most of this is done unconsciously. But intentional, deep breathing can do a lot more for us than just absorb oxygen and expel carbon dioxide—it can improve our bodies both physically and physiologically. In other words, the way you breathe matters.

Breathing is an automatic function of the body that is controlled by the respiratory center of the brain. When we feel stressed, our breathing pattern quickens, and we tend to take small, shallow breaths, using our shoulders rather than our diaphragm to take in air. Unfortunately, this shallow breathing can prolong these feelings of anxiety or stress, and even lead to a whole other host of problems like contributing to high blood pressure or depression. But luckily, we have the power to purposefully change our own breathing patterns.

Science has shown that relaxed, deep breathing can help manage stress and help calm the body’s nervous system.

Deep breathing—what it is and how to do it

Deep breathing, also known as yogic breathing, is the voluntary regulation of breath by consciously and actively using the diaphragm to increase the inflow and outflow of air, as well as to decrease the time between breaths. When you take shallow breaths, you rarely engage the entire diaphragm. But by breathing deeply, you can engage this muscle and increase airflow—therefore igniting the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. This system reverses the stress response by slowing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and calming the mind. All good things, right?

Two ways to practice deep breathing are through diaphragmatic breathing (or belly breathing) and counted breathing.

  • Belly breathing: The practice of expanding your entire abdomen, rather than just breathing through your chest.
    • Lay on your back and take slow deep breaths, expanding your whole stomach
    • Try and relax your neck and shoulders and let your diaphragm do all the work
    • Make sure to breathe out through your mouth at least two to three times as long as you inhale
  • Counted breathing: Like belly breathing, but with counting, you may also know this method as the 4-7-8 technique.
    • Inhale for 1, 2, 3, 4, then hold your breath for a count of 7
    • Exhale to a count of 8, pushing all the air out of your stomach
    • Repeat as desired

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Give deep breathing a try. The worst thing that can happen? Reducing stress.