Ticked off? Stressed? Anxious? There’s an easy technique that can make these troublesome feelings disappear, and it doesn’t come with a prescription from your doctor.
It’s deep breathing, and it’s a tactic that clued-in people have been practicing for more than 5,000 years to help overcome anxiety and tackle life’s big challenges.
As an entrepreneur, deep breathing is a technique you can use to release tension, strengthen your immune system, improve your mood and raise your energy level. The best part is it only takes a matter of seconds.
Read on as we explain how to practice deep breathing most effectively to banish stress and conquer whatever’s on your to-do list.
Breathing With Intention
At face value, saying “breathing” can solve our problems sounds silly. Aren’t we all breathing, literally all the time?
Well, of course, but the difference is we’re not doing it consciously.
When you’re sleeping, you’re breathing deep, soothing breaths. When you’re working out, you’re breathing quickly as your heart pumps.
But you’re not doing that on purpose; your body is changing your breathing in response to what it needs at the time—relaxation while you’re sleeping, oxygen while you’re working out, and so on.
You can do the very same thing with deep breathing, consciously changing your breath to give your body and mind what it needs during times of stress or frustration.
Deep breathing as a healing mechanism goes way back—at least 5,000 years back to be precise, when the physical and spiritual practice of yoga is believed to have gotten its start.
In yoga, the deep breathing is known as ‘pranayama,’ made up of the Sanskrit words ‘prana’, the vital life force, and ‘ayama’, meaning restraint or control. Translated literally, it means ‘to control the vital life force’ within our bodies. Sounds pretty powerful, huh?
Pranayama is seen as the link between our physical mind and our consciousness, and there are at least two dozen different forms of yogic breathing intended to produce varying results. The thinking is that by changing your breathing, you’re literally able to change your state of consciousness.
So How Does It Work?
According to research, breathing exercises can have immediate effects by altering the pH level of the blood and changing our blood pressure, both of which result in an instant “calming” effect. What’s more, when we use breathing as a healthy coping mechanism, we’re less likely to resort to less healthy ones, like binge eating.
But the implications go much deeper than just our immediate circumstances. Practiced over time, deep breathing can actually change your body’s physical response to stress.
Typically when we’re stressed, our body releases a set of hormones that produce the familiar “fight or flight” reaction. But when we acclimate our bodies to breathing slowly and deeply in stressful situations, we train it to produce the opposite effect—a soothing reaction rather than the flight or fight response.
Over the long term, intentional breathing can positively affect our immune function, hypertension, asthma, as well as psychological and stress-related disorders. Some researchers believe it can even alter the expression of certain genes.
So how exactly do you do this special form of breathing? Follow the steps below to try it (full disclosure, it may feel a little kooky at first!).
- Get into a comfortable position.
Lie down or sit straight up in a chair with your feet planted on the ground. If it’s comfortable, you can also sit cross-legged on the floor. Just be sure to keep your back straight and avoid slouching over.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose.
Take it slowly. Imagine trying to extend your breath to two or three times the normal length.
- Breathe into your abdomen.
When we breathe normally, we take air into our lungs and let it out. In deep breathing, imagine pulling the breath way down into your belly. It can be helpful to place a hand over your stomach to physically feel it expanding with air. Pause and hold it there for a second or two.
- Breathe out through your mouth.
Again, take it slow. Imagine trying to draw the breath out for as long as possible. If you placed your hand on your stomach, you should feel it slowly contracting back inward.
- Repeat several times.
You’ll begin to find a slow and steady rhythm. Start with just five or ten cycles of breath, then slowly work your way up to five or ten minutes of deep breathing. As you get more comfortable with this exercise, some suggest visualizing the stress or tension leaving your body as you exhale.
(Note—as you probably noticed, we’re not doctors. If you have any sort of health limitations, especially respiratory ones, it’s a good idea to consult with your physician before trying these exercises.)
Once you get the hang of it, you can check in with your breath anywhere, whether it’s in the car on your anxiety-inducing morning commute or from your desk chair as you sit on a never-ending conference call. Whatever your frustration, the relief you’re after might just be on the other side of a few deep breaths.
I wanted to end with a great video I found while doing some deep breathing research. It features kids sharing how they use breathing to help them feel better when “being mad takes over your body.” What a great technique for the next generation of entrepreneurs to learn!
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