Breathing. We all breathe. Every day, every hour, every second. Our breathing enables us to live. But why read an article about breathing or even work on it? Each of us breathes on our own – completely subconsciously. However, with the help of simple breathing exercises, we can improve relaxation as well as our concentration and focus.
In everyday life and especially in stressful situations, we often don’t know where our head is at: We have many appointments, tasks, and social obligations and have to balance the needs of ourselves, our families, our friends, or colleagues. In such situations, it can be difficult to concentrate or focus and find oneself – as banal as it may sound, consciously controlled breathing helps to focus and calm down.
What happens in our body when we breathe?
Most of the processes of our autonomic nervous system cannot be directly influenced (such as the heartbeat or digestion). Our breathing, however, is a process of the autonomic nervous system that can be consciously influenced and controlled. If you consciously direct your breath, this can in turn influence other physical processes, such as our heartbeat.
Isolated high breathing
There are two types of breathing. The isolated high breathing and the deep breathing. Isolated high breathing is also known as chest breathing or neck breathing because the breathing is felt more in the chest and neck area. In isolated high breathing, the potential of the lungs is not fully exploited during breathing. The ribs are lifted and therefore the diaphragm is passively pulled upwards, while the abdominal wall hardly moves at all or even inwards. This means that you have a rather shallow, short breath and you breathe rather superficially. This form of breathing is called unphysiological. It describes a hasty, fast and weak breathing. This high breathing can become unhealthy and pathological in the long run.
Deep Breathing (Diaphragmatic breathing)
Deep breathing makes use of the full lung volume. Inhalation is triggered by the contraction of the diaphragm. The diaphragm is pulled slightly downwards and the lung expands much further than during isolated high breathing. This causes the abdominal viscera to move forwards, which is indicated by the protrusion of the abdominal wall. Because of this, it is often colloquially said that one breathes deeply “into the belly”, therefore many people name it belly breathing. Deep breathing, or full breathing, is described as physiological, i.e. as steady, effortless, flowing, regular and balanced. It should therefore be a goal for each of us to replace pathological high breathing with deep breathing, i.e. to practice especially diaphragmatic flank breathing or abdominal-diaphragmatic flank breathing.
How stress affects our breathing
Each of us is sometimes stressed. Whether during an exam, a job interview or the upcoming result of a visit to the doctor. When we are stressed because we have to give an important presentation or the results of an examination are pending, our heart rate increases and we become nervous, anxious, distracted or find it difficult to focus. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are responsible for this. Both nervous systems control certain processes in our body. The sympathetic nervous system is activated when we are excited or stressed and breathe quickly, the parasympathetic nervous system when we are relaxed and breathe slowly.
Why is conscious breathing important?
Through the conscious regulation of the breath, the guidance of the so-called high breathing and deep breathing, the heart rate, and the associated stress feelings in stressful situations or nervousness can be lowered. This makes it easier for us to focus on the essentials. In addition, deep breathing provides us with more oxygen in the brain. This allows us to think and focus more clearly. When we breathe consciously and concentrate on the inflow and outflow of air, we are only with ourselves and can thus manage to focus on ourselves and our body’s inner self. As simple as it sounds: Conscious breathing causes true miracles.
Therefore it makes sense to consciously train the control of our breathing from time to time and thus use it in stressful situations as a method to calm down and refocus. If one trains conscious deep breathing and integrates it into everyday life, it is possible to distract oneself from external fears or thoughts and to focus quickly with the help of deep breathing.
What are the benefits of deep breathing?
- With our thoughts, we can control the flow of breath and thus influence physical processes directly and indirectly. If we breathe deeper and slower, our heart rate and blood pressure drop, our muscles slacken and relax.
- Through nasal breathing, memory performance is increased and the ability to concentrate and perform is enhanced.
- In addition, conscious breathing makes you calmer and focuses on your inner self.
- By focusing on the body’s own processes it is possible to direct one’s thoughts to HERE and NOW and not to dwell in the future or the past.
- Conscious deep breathing is easy and flexible to integrate into everyday life, in order to focus and to find oneself quickly between exercises, in exams, or during lectures.
2 breathing exercises for conscious breathing
1. Simple breathing exercise to become more focused
- Take your hand and place your thumb at one nostril, your index finger at your other nostril. Inhale through your right nostril (keeping your left nostril closed with one finger) and exhale through your left nostril (keeping your right nostril closed). Repeat the exercise for several breaths and focus on the airflow. This exercise helps you to breathe more consciously and to focus more on the here and now.
2. Breathing exercises with visualization to support deep breathing
- Shake briefly so that your body is as loose and relaxed as possible.
- Stand loosely, legs spread hip-wide apart and slightly flexed, letting the shoulders and arms hang loosely.
- Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest – this way you can consciously perceive your breathing.
- Breathe in through your nose and imagine breathing into your “belly”. Feel how your abdominal wall slowly rises.
- If it doesn’t work directly, try it again and concentrate on the airflow moving from your nose through your lungs into your abdomen.
- Close your eyes and imagine that you inhale power and energy through your nose and that this energy flows through your entire body to your feet.
- Try to exhale very slowly and barely open your lips so that only a small stream of air leaves your mouth very slowly.
- As you exhale, imagine that you are grounded. Through the feet, the airflow you inhale connects to the ground and the earth.
- Breathe in energy five more times deeply through your nose and slowly exhale again.
Try to consciously focus on your breathing this evening when you are lying in bed. Can you feel your abdominal wall lifting automatically? We want to use this kind of deep breathing for ourselves in everyday life.
What experiences have you already had with conscious breathing? If you have any feedback, questions or additions to the article, please feel free to message us here or on instagram (@psychologyjungle). The anonymous comment function allows for an exchange of content. Make sure that you treat everyone with respect, even when we are on the Internet 🙂
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