Believe it or not, many of us are not breathing correctly. Stress from our day to day lives has caused habitual short breaths, tightened stomachs, and restricted oxygen flow. Deep belly breaths (also called deep diaphragmatic breathing) is the result of breathing in through our nostrils until our belly expands fully and then slowly breathing back out, with a relaxed stomach.
This is a stark contrast to our normalized breathing, where we breathe with our chest or pull our belly in. Harvard Health Publications states that deep breathing helps reduce blood pressure, aids our immune system, and slows our heart rate. Not breathing correctly reduces the amount of oxygen our lungs receive. This oxygen deprivation can cause us to feel short of breath and even anxious. Deep breaths can open us up, help us relax, and even help bring us to the present, forcing us to concentrate simply on breathing.
Bikram yoga teaches us the concept of “prana” which translates to your “life force”. “Pranayama” is the act of controlling your prana, which is exactly what deep breathing is. Yogis have studied this and made entire routines you can follow through a class or with YouTube videos at home.
A study published in the American Psychological Association in 2009 showed that even trauma survivors can benefit from the practice of yoga. Researchers compared women with PTSD who took part in a group Hatha yoga class versus those who took part in a dialectal behaviour therapy group. The study found that those in the yoga class reduced their PTSD symptoms. Furthermore, researchers looked at active duty soldiers returning from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan who were suffering from PTSD. They studied how the soldiers would fare in a 9 week Nidra yoga program. Participants reported reduction in insomnia, depression, anxiety and fear.
On the other side of the spectrum, even combat systems and martial arts preach breathing correctly as a vital concept. Miyamoto Musashi, believed to be the most skilled Samurai in Japanese history, has written extensively on the benefits of incorporating deep breathing into training in his book “The Book of Five Rings”. More recently, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu puts a heavy emphasis on deep breathing through the diaphragm within the programs. This creates optimal breathing patterns which help calm fighters in stressful situations. A large component in sports psychology is understanding the concept of “flow,” which is the relaxed state an athlete is in where they perform at peak levels while still remaining in a specific state of consciousness. Things just feel effortless and easy in this state. Deep breathing makes you feel calm, in control, and can possibly help athletes enter into this state.
It is interesting to see how deep breathing can help us in so many aspects of our life. To practice calming yourself, try to focus on your breathing while doing any activity. Or simply take 15 minutes out of your day to focus on your breathing. Eventually you’ll weave it into your everyday routine. Remember, just breathe!