Q: Can deep breathing really help you relax?
A: As Westerners, we are so accustomed to chest breathing that the concept of deep breathing seems foreign to us. But, yes, deep breathing absolutely can help you to relax!
The key to reaching relaxation mode lies in deep nasal breathing. Babies are nasal breathers by nature, this allows them to breathe while breast feeding. Chest breathing, then, is a learned behavior brought on by stress. Breathing is a bodily function that you have control over; it can be done consciously or unconsciously. So, the good news is, changing the way you breathe is totally possible. Once you practice breathing correctly, it can become automatic.
Take a deep breath right now. Did you open your mouth, raise your chest, and suck in your tummy? If your answer is yes, you have done it incorrectly. Try this: Place your hand on your tummy ( at your navel), take a deep breath in through your nose. Your tummy should expand slightly, your chest should not. Your shoulders should stay somewhat relaxed, and you should feel no tension in your upper back. As you inhale, count to yourself the number of seconds your inhale lasted. Your exhalation breath should be twice as long, and your tummy should contract slightly.
Try having a practice session in the morning or at night before you retire. Take five to ten minutes to practice the nasal breathing technique stated above. Become more conscious of the way you breathe throughout the day. It is not necessary to take large deep breaths for each breath you take, but it is a good idea to breathe solely through your nose instead of your mouth. In fact, notice how often you breathe through your mouth instead of your nose. It is also beneficial to nasal breathe during exercise. Test yourself. If you feel the need to breathe through your mouth during exercise, then you are overexerting yourself. It will take time and practice to complete an entire workout routine while nasal breathing only, but you will feel more rejuvenated when done.
In addition to serving as a filter and humidifier, nasal breathing causes the diaphragm to contract and increases the cavities of the lungs. The slow release of air through the nostrils can keep air in the lungs for a longer period of time; this may help further oxygen absorption. This is what makes nasal breathing beneficial during exercise. Nasal breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which works to calm us down, promoting a state of relaxation. This occurs because nasal breathing engages the lower lungs, which turns on the PNS. On the contrary, the sympathetic nervous system, activated by mouth breathing, puts the body and mind on alert mode. A constant mouth breather will have more stress and may deplete bodily reserves and nutrients. Nasal breathing is clearly superior. It is no wonder the best tool for breathing is located directly in the middle of the face. The key is putting the nose to good use and training it to turn on the breathing process automatically.