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Singers from Faith Hill to Anna Nalick, from Eddie Vedder to Alexi Murdoch croon about the benefits of just breathing, but while we may be keen on huffing out the words of their latest songs, we don’t always embrace the message behind the lyrics. Research shows us, however, that focusing on our breath and how we use each inhale and exhale can help reduce stress and in turn, enhance the quality of our lives.
While our natural “fight or flight” response can help protect us when in danger, many of us overuse the response because we’re too stressed in our daily lives.
When our body’s fight or flight response is triggered, epinephrine in our system raises the hair on our arms, squeezes sweat out of our pores, and speeds up our heart rate. In situations where we are truly in danger, this response helps us to appropriately react to take ourselves away from danger. However, fight or flight can also be triggered by less critical, stress-inducing situations: financial worries, relationship issues and undue pressures from school or work.
An overabundance of physiological fight or flight stress responses can be detrimental to our health, leading to immune deficiencies, high blood pressure, anxiety or depression. An immediate response to these health issues might be to visit a doctor and get a prescription. But would you believe one of our greatest tools is right at our fingertips—or, more accurately, at our lips?
Our parasympathetic nervous system slows our heart rate and helps us relax. When evoked, it can help relieve the symptoms of stress. One way to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system is by focusing on the breath, breathing deeply and fully. When we practice deep, focused belly breathing, our brains receive a message to relax—a message then relayed to our bodies, which react by letting go of anxiety and panic.
Practicing focused breathing can help us use this technique as a tool when we are feeling anxious or stressed.
- Sit in a comfortable position, supported, if you choose, with a cushion or blanket. Gently close your eyes.
- As you breathe in through your nose, picture the breath moving into your belly.