Take a Deep Breath:
The Carroll News health beat
By: Elissa Filozof
For a while when I was younger, I took singing lessons with a vocal coach (whose name, funny enough, happened to be Mrs. Singer). Already in her eighties, Mrs. Singer had been coaching students in how to strengthen their voices for the best projection for over 40 years.
I admired her passion as a vocal instructor, but maybe even more so the consistent self-respect she demonstrated to me and others by keeping herself put-together, fit and healthy. I remember after our lesson one evening — during which we had been practicing deep-breathing — she laughed and said, “I tell you, I think I’ve lived so long and been so active because I do so much of this deep-breathing stuff!”
I don’t know why, but this comment has stuck with me ever since then. Recently I decided to do some research into deep-breathing to determine whether or not it is so beneficial, as dear Mrs. Singer suggested. Here are a few tips to live a life like Mrs. Singer.
The next time an upcoming test has got you stressed and your friend urges you to “just breathe,” you might want to heed their advice — after all, science backs it up. Studies have shown that deep breathing releases endorphins throughout the body.
These natural painkillers counteract cortisol, the stress hormone, allowing you to relax your mind and body — even helping you to sleep better (LiveStrong.org). Since stress harms your ability to focus, deciding to take a deep breath in might just be more beneficial than you think.
Take A Seat
To optimize the calming effect of deep breathing exercises, the health and wellness website LiveStrong recommends that you try adopting the following position: “Sit comfortably with your hands on your knees and your shoulders relaxed. Breathing begins with exhaling, as you cannot fully inhale until you empty your lungs completely.
Breathe in through your nose
LiveStrong continues by saying, “Exhale slowly through your nose while you count to five. Tighten or tense your abdominal muscles. At the end of your breath, pause for two counts, then inhale slowly while you count to five. Expand your belly as you breathe in. Close your eyes and repeat five to 10 times.” Become aware of your breathing, and if your mind wanders, don’t worry; the longer you practice deep breathing, the more natural it becomes to be mindful of it.
A Short Biology Lesson
When under stress or anxiety, the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated — that is, the “fight or flight” response that has evolved to help us escape potentially dangerous situations. The sympathetic nervous system causes secretion of a couple of different hormones including adrenaline, which works to increase our heart rate and blood pressure.
The parasympathetic nervous system, in turn, works to reverse these symptoms of stress — so, lowering our blood pressure, slowing our heartbeat and increasing blood flow to the gut to aid in digestion. What does this have to do with the way we breathe? Actually, a lot: deep breathing greatly helps to stimulate the parasympathetic response, which relaxes us physiologically.
The Yogis Have It
Yoga is a popular form of exercise which emphasizes mindfulness, deep-breathing and core strength. According to the American Osteopathic Association, the sport has been shown to highly positive effects on both our physical and mental states.
Physical benefits include increased flexibility, muscle strength and tone; improved breathing, energy and vitality; balanced metabolism and healthy weight maintenance and cardio and circulatory health.
And the mental benefits can be a powerful aid in combating stress: the deep-breathing practiced in yoga is proven to promote better blood flow which releases toxins from the body, helping us to sleep better and feel more mentally positive and physically energized.