What is deep breathing therapy?
The most common advice we give each other when someone is stressed or anxious is “take a deep breath”. Well, this turns out to be great scientifically sound advice too!
You often hold your breath or take shallow breaths when you’re stressed, lifting mainly the chest and rib cage. Consciously shifting to slow, deep breaths (which move your diaphragm), is a quick way to break the stress cycle and make you feel less anxious. This moves you away from a stress reaction to a relaxation response.
Deep (or Diaphragmatic) Breathing Therapy (DBT) is the practice of taking conscious, slow and diaphragm-led breaths. Babies do this naturally, but as we age we tend to shift away from this type of breathing. You could say DBT is a tool that enables us to reconnect with our natural breathing patterns.
The benefits of DBT include:
- Helping people with insomnia get back to sleep. You can capitalise on this tool by taking slow, deep, long breaths to help your body return to a sense of calm - which can help you sleep better.
- It can help reduce anxiety and stress levels because when your mind and body is in this emotional state, your muscles tend to tense up and your breathing becomes shallow and disrupted. So consciously breathing deeply ensures that carbon dioxide is released and oxygen is let into the body, so it can return to a calmer state.
- Deep breathing therapy helps manage high blood pressure when used in conjunction with traditional medical treatments. Deep breathing can slow the heartbeat and help to lower and stabilize blood pressure (1.2)
- It can improve your core muscle stability because this breathing technique relies heavily on the movement of the abdominal muscles.
- It can also improve blood flow - the upward and downward movement of the diaphragm helps force blood throughout the body enabling overall better blood flow.
How to begin practising DBT:
It’s important to ensure that any breathing exercises you try are done in a calm environment and are not forced. Don’t be tempted to hold your breath as though you were swimming underwater, or to try to forcibly control your breath. But rather, just try to breathe naturally.
If your breaths are forced, or too aggressive it could produce the reverse effect - decreasing oxygen in the bloodstream. Most importantly, if you suffer from asthma or other pulmonary issues, it’s important to speak to a doctor before trying any sort of breathing therapy.
- Find a quiet, comfortable spot for you to sit or lie down. Gently observe and measure your current breathing rate. Adults tend to breathe at an average of 15-20 breaths per minute. This is your baseline.
- In this exercise, you’ll learn to alternate between normal and deep breaths. So, take a normal breath to begin, and then exhale.
- Now take a slow and deep (but gentle) breath. Notice how the air enters through your nose and feel it moving down into your lower stomach. Let your lower abdomen expand with your breath.
- Exhale through your mouth, paying attention to the sensation of the breath leaving your abdomen and moving easily upwards. Alternate deep breaths with normal breaths, and notice the different feelings.
- Once you’ve tried this for a few breaths, try to progress to a series of deep breaths in a row. Start with three, then see if you can continue taking calm and focused deep breaths. At this early stage, we recommend trying a maximum of five minutes of consistent deep breathing.