By Mary Ann Coughlin PT, CEEAA
Sometimes, we just need to take a deep breath. It helps to calm ourselves down, lower our blood pressure, increase feelings of relaxation and even energize ourselves. When times are challenging, as they are now, a few reminders to take a deep breath might be just what we need.
Let’s start with an overview of how our breath works. As we breath in through our nose or mouth the air goes to the back of our throat down our windpipe. Our windpipe then divides into 2 bronchial tubes which then go into our lungs. In our lungs there is a further division into smaller passages called bronchioles which finally end in even smaller divisions called alveoli. These alveoli are surrounded by tiny blood vessels called capillaries which transport the inhaled oxygen into our blood stream. This blood travels to our heart, our tissues and our organs. It is there that it is converted into the carbon dioxide that which we exhale.
Believe it or not, that is the condensed version. Our breath is not only connected to our lungs but it supports all the major vessels, tissues and organs of our body.
Let’s try a few breathing exercises to get started.
A Simple Stretch
Sitting or standing, arms down by your side, back straight
Take a nice deep breath in as you lift arms out and up going as high as is comfortable for you.
Breath out as you lower arms to your sides.
Movement should be slow and relaxed.
Do this 5x if that is comfortable but even once has its benefits.
Controlled or Counted Breath
Sitting or lying down, eyes open or closed.
Breathing in and out through your nose is preferred but do whatever comes easily to you.
Slowly inhale to a count of 4, slowly exhale to a count of 4.
Repeat for 5 breaths.
Sitting or lying down. Place one hand on your belly, the other on your chest.
As you inhale, try to feel the hand on your belly rise. As you exhale, feel the hand on your belly sink in.
The hand on your chest should stay still with little to no movement. You are trying to get the air deep into your lungs without forcing it or working hard. This takes some practice. Be patient and stay relaxed.
Repeat for 5 breaths.
Progressive muscle relaxation
Lying down is preferable but it can also be done sitting.
Take 3 relaxing breaths.
Breath in gently and tighten the muscles of your feet.
Breath out and relax the muscles of your feet.
Breath in and tighten the muscles of your calves.
Breath out and relax the muscles of your calves.
Breath in and out as you tighten the muscles going up your body. Work your way up- the legs, belly, chest, fingers, arms, shoulders, neck and face.
End by taking a deep relaxing breath and relaxing your whole body.
Try starting with these exercises daily. If you are feeling anxious or stressed, sit down and take a breath.
If you have breathing problems, you should check with your doctor before starting any new exercise programs. If you feel light headed, stop and sit down. Sometimes, we try too hard when starting to practice breathing techniques. It should be easy and not forced.
Relax and enjoy the few minutes you are giving to yourself.
TAKE A DEEP BREATH. INHALE PEACE. EXHALE HAPPINESS.
Mary Ann Coughlin is a physical therapist and exercise instructor. She leads classes for Bay Ridge Center and is Health Care Specialist for Bay Ridge Connects.