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At times of illness, worry, fatigue or when you have a lot going on, it is especially important to take some time to stop and breathe properly. At these times our body naturally defaults away from diaphragmatic breathing which is the most efficient and healthy away to breathe. If it has been a while since you have breathed using your diaphragm fully, it might initially be difficult to do these exercises – just keep practicing to retrain your diaphragm and it will get easy! If holding the breath ever feels uncomfortable or you feel lightheaded just take a break, and don’t worry – even unsuccessful attempts are good retraining for the diaphragm.
- Balanced breathing – start with breathing in for the count of four and exhaling over a count of four, all through your nose. As this gets easier lengthen to six (or even eight) counts each, or try:
- Square breathing (a bit easier) – inhale for four counts, pause for four, exhale for four counts and pause for four and repeat. This has been used in the military for calm and focus in stressful situations.
- Abdominal breathing – with one hand on your upper chest and one on your tummy, take a deep breath in through the nose, ensuring the diaphragm (the tummy hand) is doing most/all of the movement, not the chest. Exhale, pushing the last of the air out using your diaphragm and abdominal muscles. Goal – 6-10 slow breaths like this per minute for ten mins each day.
- Progressive muscle relaxation – closing your eyes and lying down, focus on tensing and releasing each muscle group in your body – starting with your toes and moving all the way up to your jaw and eyes. As you tense each group breathe in through your nose, hold for count of five then exhale as you release the tension. This is great before bed! You can find a clip to talk you through this on youtube.
- Alternate nostril breathing – sounds weird but this one can be a great pick me up/wake me up (not so good prior to bed). Holding your thumb over your right nostril inhale deeply through the left nostril then unblock the right, block the left instead and exhale. Then, inhale through the left nostril switch over and exhale through the right nostril.
- Visualisation – if you find it hard to do these techniques without your breathing feeling strained, don’t worry, it will improve. In the meantime, some people find it easier to distract themselves from the breathing with another form of relaxation like visualisation. You can find guided visualisations on the internet or just close your eyes and, in your mind, go to a place you feel happy and calm. Take some time to consider what you see, hear, smell, taste and touch. For our brain this can be as positive as being there!
Enjoy trying these out to see which suit you best and enjoy a calmer more focussed you!!
Chat to us at Wakefield Health Centre if you continue to struggle and we can help you.