As the UK marks 100 days of lockdown, it’s safe to say many of us are still feeling out of sorts.
Whether you’re struggling with not being able to hug a relative, feel anxious about the prospect of lockdown easing or simply feel sluggish or unmotivated, there’s no denying the pandemic has taken – and continues to take – its toll on our mental health.
With this in mind, we’re all looking for new ways to alleviate feelings of anxiety and worry and take care of ourselves during this tricky time. Thanks to the internet, we have a library of self-help resources at our disposal, with some wellness apps even offering their content for free at the moment.
One such technique is, of course, the use of breath to calm and realign the body. It’s no secret that breathing is a great way to calm the body and reduce anxiety, but for those of us who have never tried it before, it can seem like a bit of a mystery.
With this in mind, we asked Stuart Sandeman, the UK’s leading breath expert and Founder of Breathpod, to tell us more about how breathing can help us and introduce us to a couple of breathing techniques we can do at home.
How does breathing work to calm and realign the body?
“Using your breath to calm the body and mind is one of the most effective and powerful tools we as humans embody,” Sandeman explains. “Your breath is a direct link to your autonomic nervous system. Your autonomic nervous system has two response states: Sympathetic – your stress response, often referred to as flight or fight response – and Para- Sympathetic – your rest response, where you digest and repair.
“When you are in a state of stress, anxiety or overwhelm, there is a dominance towards your sympathetic system. In this state, your brain increases muscle blood flow and tension, accelerates your heart rate and respiration, increases perspiration and arterial bloody pressure – the same effect as if you were being chased by a tiger!”
Sandeman continues: “In times of stress, breathing deeply using your diaphragm and consciously controlling your breathing pattern using certain techniques will help to de-stress, re-balance and calm the mind and body.
“Breathing in this way activates your para-sympathetic response which slows down heart rate, relaxes muscles and quietens the parts of the brain that handle the anxiety response. It works to bring the body back into alignment.”
Wondering how you can put your new knowledge about breathing to practice? Give one of the following techniques a go.
Breathing to reduce anxiety and alleviate stress: the “double calm breath” technique
“A simple deep breathing exercise to move into a para-sympathetic state is to do the Breathpod ‘Double Calm’ Breath, which we do by simply doubling the length of the exhale to the length of the inhale,” Sandeman explains.
How to do the “double calm breath” technique:
- Inhale for count of four through the nose
- Exhale through pursed lips for a count of eight
- Inhale for count of five through the nose
- Exhale through pursed lips for a count of 10
- Inhale for a count of six through nose
- Exhale for a count of 12
Top Tip: If the increase in lengths is too much, just repeat steps one and two - inhale for four, exhale for eight.
Breathing to boost energy levels and improve oxygen uptake: the “box breathing” technique
“Box Breathing balances the autonomic nervous system, a system which regulates involuntary body functions like temperature,” Sandeman explains. “It can lower blood pressure and provide an almost-immediate sense of calm, improve your mood and will also keep you energised, motivated and alert.”
How to do the “box breathing” technique:
- Inhale through nose into the belly for a count of four
- Hold breath for a count of four (Try not to clamp down muscles when holding breath, simple avoid inhaling or exhaling for four seconds)
- Exhale through the nose for a count of four
- Hold breath for a count of four
- Repeat four rounds
Top Tip: Over time you can push the numbers up to five, five, five, five.