Are you limiting your oxygen intake?

We take breathing for granted: it is an unconscious act. However, actively thinking about it puts you in touch with your inner self. Most of us take shallow breaths from our upper chests. When we are stressed, our breath becomes even shallower, limiting the amount of oxygen we take in, making us feel even more tense, short of breath, and anxious. When you focus on breathing deeply, and accessing your diaphragm or abdomen along with your lungs, you release stress and tension and connect to your core.

Practicing controlled breathwork has many benefits. It helps us restore natural breathing patterns, it reduces tension and relieves stress, and even aids in digestion.

The chart below provides the difference between shallow and deep breathing.

Level of Breath Amount of Air Breathed Impact
Chest About 1 teacup of oxygen Chest breathing makes your brain create shorter, more restless brain waves.
Abdomen / Diaphragm About 1 quart of oxygen Abdominal breathing makes your brain create longer, slower brain waves, similar to the ones your brain makes when you are relaxed and calm.

Full, cleansing breaths powered by the diaphragm can help you get your stress levels in check. The next time you feel uptight, try taking a minute to slow down and breathe deeply. Here is a step by step guide to basic deep breathing:
  1. Sit comfortably, back straight with legs crossed Indian-style.
  2. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
  3. Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
  4. Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting (bringing into your spine) your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
  5. Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls.
  6. Count slowly as you exhale.
  7. To ensure you are controlling your breath and maximizing your lung capacity, start by counting to one on your first inhalation and then count for 1 second on the exhale. Next cycle of breaths count for two seconds for the enhale and then two seconds on the exhale. Work your way up to a 10 second inhale and 10 second exhale.

If you have a hard time breathing from your abdomen sitting up, lie on the floor, put a small book on your stomach, and try to breathe so that the book rises as you inhale and falls as you exhale. Breathing techniques can be practiced almost anywhere and can be combined with other relaxation exercises.

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