If your holiday season is anything like ours, you could use some deep breathing exercises. And let’s be real, we all need to breathe a little better no matter the time of the year. Even though breathing is something you do all day, every day, and have since literally the day you were born, it makes sense to think about it. Why?
Consider the last time you were stressed. Last night? This morning? This very moment? (We hope not.) Notice how rapid and shallow your breathing becomes under pressure? Yeah, that’s why. Learning how to regulate your breath can make the difference between wanting to throttle your fam for their inappropriate comments during your holiday dinner—and simply smiling and passing the parsnips.
So what is breath anyway and how can deep breathing exercises bring some relaxation back in your season?
Stress Less by Breathing Better
At its most basic, breath is life. We can survive at least three weeks without food, several days (typically) without water, but only about three minutes without air. Do we need to remind you not to try this at home?
Beyond being the foundation of life, breath defines how we move through the world. Psychiatrist Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt therapy, said, “Fear is excitement without the breath.”
Intriguing, right? Think about our instinctive reaction to fear or stress: We tend to constrict our breathing. When we’re excited, by contrast, our breathing speeds up, but we feel enthused, not afraid. So maybe if we can learn to slow down our breathing, we can convince our bodies that we’re not scared…or stressed. It’s worth a shot, right?
What’s more is the stress-breath connection has a pretty solid backing in research. Different types of evidence-based breathing exercises have proven to be effective at reducing stress, decreasing blood pressure, slowing down anxiety, helping with depression and pain, and way, way more, according to a 2011 review of science-backed stress-busting techniques. So taking time to take those deep breaths is a win for both your short-term and your long-term health. Ready to try?
3 Deep Breathing Exercises to Shift Arrgh to Ahhhh
Truth: Learning how to breathe isn’t as innate as just breathing. But since you’re a natural-born breather, it’s simple to master.
Here are three 1-minute deep breathing exercises that you can practice during the holidays (and every day) to channel your chill.
1. Yawn and stretch
Ever watched a cat or dog wake up from a nap or come out of a position they’ve been in for a while? They s-t-r-e-t-c-h their legs and yawn as if to say, “Now I’m ready for life again.” Mindfulness expert and therapist Leonie Stewart-Weeks recommends finding your inner animal and doing a 10-second “yawn and stretch” every hour. Not feeling a yawn coming on? Fake it. You might actually spark a real one.
“Say ‘ahh’ as you exhale. Notice how a yawn interrupts your thoughts and feelings. This brings you into the present. Then stretch really, really slowly for at least 10 seconds. Notice any tightness and say ‘ease.’ Take another 20 seconds to notice and then get back to what you were doing,” she writes on Psych Central.
2. Breathing with your belly
Most of us are breathing with our chests, instead of our bellies. And that means we’re not getting the breathing benefits we so desperately need. Belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, has been shown to help with short-term stress, regulating blood pressure, and even reducing the stress we feel when going to the dentist. In short, it’s a technique you’ll want to master sooner rather than later.
Want to give it a shot? Here are some tips from Cleveland Clinic:
- Lie on your back on a mat, couch, bed, whatever keeps you flat.
- Bend your knees slightly and throw a pillow or towel under them if you need a little extra support.
- One hand goes on your chest and the other goes under your ribs. (Your hands will tell you if you’re doing it right.)
- Take a slow, deep breath with your nose and push your stomach, not your chest, out. The hand under your ribs should move with your breath.
- Contract your core as you let out the breath, preventing the hand on your chest from moving.
- Repeat for 5–10 minutes a few times per day for maximum benefits.
3. Smile breathing
K, just hang in there with us for a minute. Renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and author, Thích Nhất Hạnh, helped popularize smile breathing, which is pretty much what you think it is—deep breathing while smiling. “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile,” Nhất Hạnh writes in his book Being Peace. Not exactly how you feel (or look) when breathing? Us either, but it’s still worth a try.
Marga Odahowski, author of The Way of the Hammock, explains how to try smile-breathing in a recent post.
- “For one minute, focus on gentle breathing.
- Begin with observing where you feel the breath in the body.
- As you inhale allow a smile to enter the mind—an inner smile.
- Invite the smile muscles to brighten as you continue to breathe slowly.
- You may find memories of generosity, laughter, and gratefulness follow the breath.
- Drop the thoughts and stay with the feeling of smiling.
- Allow the feelings of the smile to cascade throughout your body.
- Finally, bring a smile to your face and continue feeling and observing.
- The jaw naturally relaxes as you smile.
- Breathe in calm, breathe out a smile.
- Begin to notice the body and senses as you relax and smile.
- Take this smile into the rest of your day.”
Set a timer for one minute and try it. You might find yourself having a better day.
Try these deep breathing exercises when you’re really feeling it this season and whenever you’re struggling with stress. Who knows, it might even help you see (and hopefully appreciate) your relatives for who they really are. Even the wild cards. Happy holiday breathing!
Your turn: Have you ever tried any deep breathing exercises? Tell us about your breathing breakthroughs in the comments.
Author: Amara Rose
Amara Rose credits breathing hacks for her youthful appearance and impeccable manners. She runs LiveYourLight.com.
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