Breathing is about so much more than just bringing oxygen into your body. The simple act can control your mood, your mind, and even how much pleasure you derive from something (yes, even that kind of something).
But the technique isn’t as simple as inhale, exhale.
Calm Your Commute
Sitting in traffic or jammed into a packed subway make your a.m. travel time one of the most stressful situations of the day, says Kathleen Hall, Atlanta-based stress expert and founder of the The Mindful Living Network. Practicing breathing techniques intermittently throughout the commute can help keep the stress from getting to you.
Improve Afternoon Energy
Nodding off at your desk? Skip that second (or third, or fourth) cup of coffee, which can tax your adrenal glands, says Belisa Vranich, clinical psychologist and author of Breathe: 14 Days to Oxygenating, Recharging, and Fueling Your Body & Brain. Breath can actually invigorate your mind, boosting alertness and cognitive function.
Ease Stress and Anxiety
All of our experts agree: One of the most powerful benefits of breathing is to bring your mood back to equilibrium. When you’re stressed or anxious, your sympathetic nervous system-what we associate with “fight or flight” mode-is on overdrive, explains Patricia Gerbarg, M.D., co-author of The Healing Power of the Breath. Changing the rate and pattern of breathing helps to tell your system it doesn’t need to be on call for a threat, while simultaneously activating the counter-balancing parasympathetic nervous system, which acts to slow the heart rate and send messages to the brain telling it to relax and start to release beneficial hormones.
Improve Your Orgasm
“When people get sexually excited, they tend to hold the breath or breathe really shallowly,” says holistic sex and relationship expert Kim Anami. Practicing deep, steady breathing can help you relax and stay in the present moment-important since a lot of people tend to dissociate during sex. Not to mention, deep breathing throughout arousal and orgasm will increase the power and pleasure of your climax, Anami adds. In fact, just breathing is a key step to achieving the impossible: multiple Os.
Best Technique: Coherent Breath. “At first, reminding yourself to breathe might be something you have to mentally focus on,” Anami says. But once you get in the habit of it, the deep breaths will come naturally, along with the greater pleasure.
Help You Lose Weight
With each breath, you’re actually burning calories. The science highlighted in a recent study in BMJ says that, despite what most people think, fat isn’t converted to energy or heat, then burned off with exercise. Instead, fat actually breaks down into the elements of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. Each breath carries not just water weight, but actual matter-carbon atoms, taken right out of your fat cells. The reason exercise helps you lose weight is actually because it speeds up breathing-the more breaths you take, the more carbon you lose.
Sleep More Soundly
For most people, not being able to fall asleep or get back to sleep is directly linked to stress and worry. “Breathing can help calm your system down and shut off the worry centers,” says Gerbarg. Just note that during the day you want to be alert, so you don’t want to take the breath too far. In order for breath to be sedating, double the length of your exhale, Gerbarg suggests.
Help Treat Heart Disease
“Relaxation breathing lowers your blood pressure, heart rate, and reduces the production of stress hormones, all of which can help with conditions that result from these high levels,” says Hall.
Improve Your Fitness
“If you want your breathing to help you improve your workout, you need to use progressive resistance to strength train your breathing muscles, just like you do for the rest of the muscles in your body,” says Carolyn Morse, president of PowerLung, a tool to help improve your breathing. If you don’t train your lungs, you’re cheating yourself of a truly taxing workout. “When your breathing is compromised, your body automatically sends signals to your brain to re-direct blood flow from larger muscles, like the legs, back to respiratory muscles because they are under stress and need oxygen,” she explains. That means your muscles will fatigue before they’re really maxed out, and you’ll quit before your body actually needs to.
Become Closer to Loved Ones
Practice slow breathing while cuddling with someone you love or even having a meal with close friends. These feelings of security and safety will activate your parasympathetic nervous system-that circuit necessary for your brain to know it’s okay to stop defending and start releasing beneficial neurochemicals, Gerbarg says. Specifically, this close contact with loved ones causes your brain to release oxytocin and, with the breath keeping your fight-or-flight response at bay, this hormone is able to help strengthen emotional bonds.
Deepen Your Stretches
Whether you’re post-run or fully immersed in your Vinyasa practice, breathing can take your stretches a step further. “Deep breathing relaxes your tight muscles, expands and stretches them, and clears the mind as you send rich oxygen to the brain,” Hall explains.
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Become More Compassionate
Unrelenting work stress makes most of us a little less empathetic and a little less helpful when we could (and probably need to) be. Breathing techniques, though, can actually restore or enhance your empathy because they release compatible brain chemicals, Gerbarg explains. Try this: Instead of screaming at the employee who messed up (again), take a few minutes to concentrate on your breath in those moments when you know you need to be compassionate.