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How to Practice Deep Breathing

Believe it or not there are actual ways to deep breathe in a way that's more effective for you. There is a Buddhist saying that goes something like we've forgotten how to breathe. Meaning that it modern times we all breathe into our chests, though this is not how it's always been. Before we get into how to deeply breathe, let's talk bout some of the benefits and purposes of deep breathing.

Benefits Deep breathing stimulates our vagus nerve and activates our parasympathetic nervous system. This allows us to "rest and digest" or basically calm our physical and mental bodies. Deep breathing can decrease pain as it helps release more endorphins in our body and endorphins are our bodies' natural pain killers. It increases energy levels as it allows more oxygen to enter our blood streams. Many other health benefits such as boosting immunity, lowering blood pressure, improving digestion, decreasing stress, and improving sleep Many other mental health benefits such as helping with anxiety and depression.

Purposes In addition to any of the above reasons you can use deep breathing, a really important purpose is to help with anxiety, including panic attacks. When we are anxious we tend to breathe into our chests because "fight-or-flight" mode needs us to in order to make either of those moves. By breathing deeply we move from a sympathetic (fight-or-flight) response to a parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) one and quickly begin to feel much more calm.

So, how do we practice deep breathing? There are a few ways to practice. In general we want to breathe into our abdomen. Specifically we can practice diaphragmatic breathing, in which our abdomen rises, while our chest stays fairly level. Breathe moves in and out through the nose. Exhales feel like you're blowing out birthday candles. If you've never practiced before, place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly (it's used as part of progressive muscle relaxation, which you can try here). Another option is, again, to breathe into your abdomen, but purposefully have different lengths for your inhales and exhales. For example, breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, and breathe out for a count of 8 (here's a guided version).

It's easiest to use deep breathing in the moment (like for anxiety) if you practice it regularly. Since there are a lot of other physical and mental health benefits to it, practicing regularly may just be a good idea. When I notice my breathe isn't as deep as it could be, I try to make an adjustment knowing it will be more beneficial for me in the long run.

Don't forget there is a 30 day meditation challenge available on YouTube!


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