As babies and young children, we breathe deeply by expanding our diaphragms. Rather than our chests rising and falling with each breath, our stomachs expand and contract. However, we seem to lose this extremely beneficial ability when we enter our school years. As we continue to mature and become more wrapped up in our daily stresses, we become less connected to the single activity that is simple to do and has many health benefits – deep breathing.
Although there is a long list of benefits to deep breathing, the one benefit that is worth highlighting is its ability to help us respond rather than react to stressful situations.
When we are experiencing stress, our body reacts by entering a “fight or flight” state. While in this state, our body gets ready to fight (attack the suspected opponent), flee (run away from the situation), or freeze (avoid being noticed) to cope with the distressing situation. These reactions often lead us to take quick, shallow breaths and to tighten our muscles in preparation. Thanks to these automatic and adaptive skills, we were able to face many life-threatening situations during our more primitive years in the wild!
Now that we no longer live in the wild and hunt for our own food, we do not always need to prepare for “fight or flight”. But because our body is so used to reacting to stress in this manner, these states can be triggered in situations where we SENSE that it is life threatening. This may include situations such as a deadline at work or an argument with a loved one. Taking deep breaths can help our body ease its way out of the fight, flight, or freeze state; deep breathing can release some of the muscle tension and help our bodies understand that we are not in physical danger. So it can be very helpful to notice your breathing and to take longer and deeper breaths. By giving our bodies a break in this way, we may be able to see the situation differently and allow ourselves to respond (rather than react) to the stress more appropriately. Not only can our state of mind influence our body, our body can also influence our state of mind.
With Spring just around the corner, this might be a good time for you to brush up on your deep breathing techniques and to reconnect with your natural ability to breathe deeply. Take a moment to enjoy the fresh scent of Spring AND to help yourself RESPOND rather than REACT to stressful situations!
For Teens and Adults:
(1) Over a count of 4 seconds, slowly inhale through your nose as you feel your stomach expanding
(2) Hold your breath for 2 seconds
(3) Over a count of 4 seconds, slowly exhale through your mouth as you feel your stomach shrinking
(4) Hold your breath for 2 seconds
* Repeat 4-8 times (or more)
Children can also benefit from deep breathing. A fun way to help them learn to breathe deeply is by using ideas that are familiar to them.
(1) Ask the child to imagine a rose and to slowly breathe in the scent of the rose for 4 seconds. Encourage the child to notice his/her belly becoming large like an expanding balloon.
(2) Hold in the scent for 2 seconds
(3) Then ask the child to pretend to slowly blow out birthday candles for 4 seconds. Encourage the child to notice his/her belly becoming small like a shrinking balloon.
(4) Pause for 2 seconds
* Repeat 3-5 times (or more)