The power of breath: breathing techniques for relaxation

29. April 2019

It’s always there, but we are rarely aware of it. It accompanies us every day and is the source of all life. It gives us a natural rhythm and can be an anchor in hectic times. We are talking about our breath. In this article you will learn interesting facts about breathing and which breathing exercises you can use to find peace and relaxation.

Life elixir, breath

Often in hectic times we long for an effective tool for relaxation. So we knead anti-stress balls, torture ourselves to exercise and dab essential oils on our temples. Yet we have perhaps the most effective stress-relief tool with us at all times: our breath. It is our anchor in the present, the natural clock and our protective companion.

As unsettled as times can be, the breath is reliable. It happens on its own because it is automatically regulated by the autonomic nervous system. The responsible brain areas are located in the oldest and most primal part of the brain, the brain stem. The trick is that we are nevertheless able to control the breath voluntarily and to use its healing power.

Breathe in – Breathe out

Our breathing reflects our mood. Sometimes our breath catches in fear, sometimes we get completely out of breath from excitement and stress, or worries completely take away our breath. As these sayings show, difficult situations or psychological stresses upset our breathing. Chronic strain and psychological stress are then “breathtaking” in a negative sense. By calming the breath again through breath awareness and breathing exercises, we can indirectly influence our well-being.

Research shows that breathing therapies are effective not only for physical but also for mental illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, depression or burnout.

A major advantage is that there are no known side effects (Stutz & Schreiber, 2017). A basic mechanism of breathing techniques is that our heart rate can be changed via breathing. Breathing evenly can calm a pounding heart again. In addition, exhaling stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, a nerve plexus that provides relaxation and release. Breathing exercises can also help with sleep problems!

Helpful Breathing Exercises

The power of the breath lies in its steadiness. The natural rhythm and interplay of inhalation and exhalation can calm us. The tension associated with mental illness, for example, can be reduced and relaxation promoted. Many relaxation techniques are based on awareness of breathing, such as mindfulness or meditation. In sports such as yoga or qigong, the breath is of central importance. Consciously directing the breath to cramped or painful areas of the body can be beneficial because the breath transports oxygen, which is essential for the function of all parts of the body.

Try it: Take a few minutes to notice your body. Perhaps you will discover cramped or pinching areas. Then direct your breath to that spot: imagine breathing into that part of your body. You may feel the flow of energy, the healing power of the breath.

Focus on the breath

Many methods of breath awareness rely on consciously counting breaths. For example, inhaling and exhaling can be counted at one’s own pace in increments of ten. The total duration of inhalation and exhalation can also be counted and brought into a steady rhythm. It is also helpful to always pay attention to the short moments of complete silence between inhalation and exhalation. In yoga, these pauses in breathing are deliberately prolonged to savor the stillness and relaxation. Some breathing techniques use visual aids such as colors or light to emphasize the energy of the breath.

Mantras

Mantras are guiding sayings used in meditation to help focus. Many mantras relate to the breath and are valuable aids in directing concentration to the breath. For inspiration, the following mantras are useful in the course of breathing exercises:

  • Every inhale is a new beginning, every exhale a letting go
  • The breath comes, it stays, and it goes
  • A wave comes, and departs
  • Inhaling, exhaling, taking in, letting go

You may find a quiet minute to consciously breathe in and out while chanting along with a chosen mantra in your head. You’ll find that concentrating on your breathing becomes much easier with the mantra. Of course, you can also get creative and formulate your individual mantra. It may feel a little unfamiliar at first, but over time the mantra can work its magic.

Learn breathing techniques

The greatest advantage of breathing techniques is that we always have the breath with us. Thus, in any situation, we have the opportunity to reflect on it and stabilize ourselves by its natural rhythm. For the beginning, a quiet, undisturbed place and a little time are of course useful to practice the breathing techniques. In doing so, one should first train breath awareness. The following questions can help to strengthen awareness:

  • Where does the breath flow?
  • Is it sitting high up in the chest? In the middle? Or deep in the abdomen?
  • To where can I feel the breath? Maybe all the way into the legs?
  • Can I follow the path of inhalation from the tip of my nose to my belly?
  • Are there places where the breath cannot flow freely?

Don’t worry if you digress from time to time. This is quite normal. Our mind is not used to focus on the breath and keeps sparking with thoughts, worries, fears or trivia. When you notice that your mind is somewhere else, return to the breath. It is always there and brings us back to the moment. After a little practice, you will be able to use the breath as your very own source of relaxation.

Time to breathe

Breathing exercises are suitable for everyone, especially, of course, in times of mental strain or stress. On the Internet, you can find a variety of free videos to accompany their breathing exercises under the search terms “breathing exercise” or “breathing technique”. Music apps also offer instructions for download. Other apps, such as Breathe or 7mind, provide structured help in making breathing work for you.

But the most important thing is always at hand anyway: the breath. It is a miracle of reliability and can become a fixed point for our restless minds. It is comforting to realize that the breath is our constant companion at all times. So draw breath and use it for yourself. It is the source of life and a source of tranquility.

References

(1) Stutz, R., & Schreiber, D. (2017). The therapeutic efficacy of Western respiratory therapy methods: a systematic review. Complementary medicine research, 24(6), 376-384

(2) Nolte, A. (2019). Deep breathing. Heart rate slows, blood pressure drops. Psychology Today, 04/2019, pp.18-27.

Categories: Therapy

Friederike Reuver
Autor:in Friederike Reuver
"Die LIMES Schlosskliniken haben sich auf die Behandlung von psychischen und psychosomatischen Erkrankungen spezialisiert. Mit Hilfe des Blogs möchten wir als Klinikgruppe die verschiedenen psychischen Erkrankungen näher beleuchten und verschiedene Therapien sowie aktuelle Themen vorstellen."

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