Breathing is obviously important for keeping us alive. We need to breathe to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. If we don’t, we suffocate and die.
Thankfully, this crucial bodily function is set to automatic so we don’t have to consciously think about our need to breathe.
The downside to this, however, is that we easily take breathing for granted.
Beyond the basic necessity, there is great power to our breath.
Conscious, purposeful, deep breathing can have a tremendous positive impact on our mind and body.
Controlled breathing helps steady the heart and a racing mind. That is why proper breathing techniques are taught in sports and martial arts.
This is also why breathing is usually the first step in yoga or meditation practices.
A variation of an exercise I like to do is as follows:
- Breathe in for a count of six, filling up your diaphragm and then your chest.
- Hold for a count of two.
- Exhale for a count of seven to eight.
- Repeat five to ten times.
- During each step, follow the bodily sensations and the inflow and outflow of air.
There are different ways this can be done, but the key is to breathe in and out nice and slow, repeat multiple times, and focus your attention on the entire process.
This is a good exercise to do first thing in the morning to wake up your mind and get oxygen flowing. It is even beneficial when preparing to sleep as it will help clear your thoughts.
If you’re feeling adventurous, “The Iceman” Wim Hof has a bit more extreme breathing exercise. If you do this, make sure you’re sitting in a comfortable place (not while driving!). You breathe in and out quickly 30 times, take a deep breath and exhale, hold for as close to 2 minutes as possible, eventually inhale deeply again and hold for 10 seconds. This is then repeated as many times as you like. I tried this myself and it certainly helps clear your head, override any emotion you are feeling, and wakes up your body. The rapid breathing followed by complete lack of air for a fairly long period of time kind of shocks your body. Proceed with caution and do a bit more homework if you are curious.
This brings me to one of the most important takeaways of breathing exercises:
It really does help clear your mind.
Now this doesn’t mean you will have a blank slate. Instead, it helps focus what might be an overactive mind on very specific sensations. By counting the inhales and exhales, as well as the rounds of breathing, your head simply will not have space to think of anything else for those few minutes.
Meditation and yoga begin with relaxing breathing exercises for this very purpose. Now, many people are wary about meditating and doing yoga. That’s fine, I was too!
You don’t have to go that far if you don’t want to (although I definitely recommend both, especially meditation). But I strongly suggest that you at least try the above breathing exercise, or something similar that you might discover that you are more comfortable with.
Athletes, meditators, yogis, and beyond have all discovered for themselves the benefits (and even necessity) of focused breathing.
If you have a few minutes, go ahead and try this right now. I promise it will help relax and focus you, at least for a small amount of time.
You got this!