Stress is part of life, whether it’s getting stuck in traffic, feeling frustrated at work, or even failing to level up in your favorite game. The impact of built-up stress can play a detrimental role in our ability to relax, sleep well, and achieve some well-deserved peace.
The good news is that focusing on your breath can do wonders for your mind and body. Practicing deep breathing to promote relaxation doesn’t require attendance at a yoga class – it doesn’t even require leaving your home! Here are some do-it-yourself tips to get you on your way to enjoying the calming and restorative effects of deep breathing.
When humans are scared, it’s not unusual for us to gasp or hold our breath. But did you know that even if we don’t feel fear, some of us hold our breath without realizing it when we feel tense? Take a few moments throughout your day to pay attention to your own breathing patterns. You might notice that you have the habit of holding your breath in certain situations or in certain settings without even realizing it. Becoming aware of your breathing is a first step in learning to relax, which can help you get better sleep.
Breathe like a baby
Newborn babies naturally breathe deeply. As we get older, without realizing it, many of us develop the habit of shallow breathing instead of deep breathing. The good news is we can re-learn how to breathe deeply.
Enjoy the exhale
Imagine taking a deep breath. Were you thinking only about breathing in? Breathing out is where the relaxation happens! Go ahead now and take some slow, deep breaths. The key is to take plenty of time as you exhale. Breathe in slowly through your nose; breathe out slowly from either your nose or your mouth. It can help to visualize your breath going all the way down your body as you breathe out. Try picturing a balloon that slowly expands as you breathe in and slowly deflates as you breathe out. You can also picture the stress leaving your body as you exhale. Enjoy the feeling of relaxation that comes with letting go of that tension as you breathe out.
Practice, practice, practice
Breathing happens naturally, so the idea of practicing breathing might sound silly. Think of it as breathing retraining for relaxation. Set aside a few minutes each day or night to take some slow, deep breaths in a quiet room. You can do this in a relaxed, seated position or while lying down. It can help to place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. As you breathe in, feel the hand on your belly gently rise as you inhale and then gently go back down as the air leaves your lungs.
The hand on your chest should stay more still compared to the hand on your belly. Make a note to yourself, either in your mind or written in a journal, of how you feel before your breathing retraining practice compared to how you feel afterward. It’s okay if you don’t notice positive effects right away – that’s what practice is for!
With practice, you’ll become mindful of your breathing and be able to bring on feelings of relaxation when you’re stressed during the day or trying to fall asleep at night.