Breathing, we do it all day, everyday, so what makes it so special?
The way you breathe can affect all of your body's functions. By actively controlling the breath, you can adjust your body's physiological responses to external stimuli. Breath can control mood and vice versa. Think of an instance when you were angry. Raging mad. Maybe you kicked a few walls, trashcans (hopefully no puppies.) Perhaps you screamed, shouted, cried, or stamped your feet. Now, try to visualize your breath in those moments. Is is long and comfortable or short and shallow? Short and shallow. Every. Single.Time.
Next time you feel angry, sad, humiliated, overwhelmed, or even tired, stop. Focus on the breath. It is the same idea behind telling children to count to 10. You redirect your mind and give yourself a beat to calm down. However, when you focus your energy on soothing breathing, you are able to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
When your exhalation is longer than your inhalation, the vagus nerve, which runs from your neck down through the diaphragm, signals to your brain to dial down the sympathetic nervous system and turn up the parasympathetic.
The sympathetic nervous system is in charge of fight-or-flight. It controls adrenaline and cortisol. 2 awesome hormones we need to run away from bears chasing us or finish a deadline at work. (Those two are equivalent in stress-levels, right?!) The parasympathetic nervous system controls your regulatory functions such as your abilities to rest and digest.
Although we need both of these systems to thrive and survive, an overdose of those exciting hormones such as cortisol can cause a problem in our body long term.
If you are feeling run down, out of energy, or just dragging after a big night out, try a breathing exercise. The easiest way to change your mood and overall physical and mental feeling in your body is to breath consciously.
Below I have given you different techniques to use depending on what situation you find yourself in.
For Focus and Enhanced Attention
Research has shown that just 20 minutes of "mindful" breathing increases the flow of oxygenated blood to your brain and increases activity in the pre-frontal cortex, which is the section of your brain that controls concentration. Additionally, this exercise increases serotonin levels. So let's all get focused and happy together!
Sit comfortably, preferably in a dimly lit room. Close your eyes and begin to relax your body. Feel each of your muscles releasing tension.
-Inhale through your nose for six to eight seconds. Focus on the breathing moving into your body and permeating every cell. Feel your belly rise.
-Exhale for nine to twelve counts. Contract your abdominal muscles as you breathe out.
Repeat this pattern and try to work up to a 20 minute session.
In yoga Pranayama translates to "the extension of life force." Getting in touch with your breath can help you relax after a long day and begin the transition from hectic day time, to a peaceful night. Each nostril correlates to one side of the brain.
The left nostril is related to the right side of the brain and is associated with moon energy-calming and cooling. This is connected with the parasympathetic nervous system which slows your body down and helps to regulate its' automatic day-to-day jobs such as digestion, elimination, and sleep cycles.
The right nostril is connected with the left side of the brain and is associated with the energy of the sun-energizing and awakening. This is the same energy that is connected to the sympathetic nervous system, which is in control of your fight-or-flight system and can amp you up when danger is near.
Practicing alternate nostril breathing in the evenings as part of your night time routine can help to de-stress the mind and release tension accumulated throughout the day. Try this simple exercise in a comfortable seated position before lying down into bed.
Take three regular breaths in and out of your nose. After your third exhalation, gently plug your right nostril with your right thumb and then inhale through only the left nostril.
Close both nostrils and hold your breath for 4 counts
Release the right nostril and exhale. Inhale on the right side, and repeat. Always alternating. After you exhale on one side, stay on that side to inhale, then hold in the middle again, and then release on the opposite side.