It is believed that how we breathe can have a profound effect on our emotional as well as physical health. Few of us breathe properly as we go about our business; stress, anxiety, and depression can cause our breathing to become shallow and quick. Studies show that regular deep, full breathing is much better for the mind and body. Breathing exercises are one way to get in touch with how we breathe to make better use of our breath.
Breathing Exercises and Stress
Breathing exercises have been observed in studies to create a more calm and relaxed state of mind. Part of the reason may be physiological, as deep, concentrated breathing counteracts the bad breathing habits most people fall into when overstressed. Studies show that proper breathing helps stimulate the relaxation response in the parasympathic nervous system. Another reason may be that slowing down to focus on one’s breathing takes the mind off of the stressor at hand, helping to put things into perspective. Researchers in India focusing on the health benefits of yogic breathing believe that these breathing exercises help alleviate stress-related issues such as tension headaches and sleep difficulties.
Breathing Exercises and Depression
One study, performed by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Bangalore, demonstrated that certain yoga breathing exercises including Sudarshan Kriya created significant improvement in the mental states of depressed research subjects. The study concluded that Sadarshan Kriya may be effective as a first line treatment and a potential alternative to drugs for melancholia.
Breathing Exercises and Anxiety
A study performed at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons concluded that yogic breathing exercises are effective for relieving anxiety. The exercises were shown to contribute to increase in the parasympathetic nervous system, a calming of the stress response, and the release of hormones in the neuroendocrine system, all of which create a calm and alert mental state.
Breathing Exercises and Panic
Hyperventilation often occurs during a panic attack, increasing the flow of oxygen to the brain and contributing to feelings of dizziness and light-headedness. Deep and slow breathing, especially focusing on holding one’s breath to increase the time between inhalations, can help to slow this oxygenation and clear the mind.
Breathing Exercises for Sleep
As the body prepares to enter sleep, breathing becomes slower and more infrequent. If stress or anxiety is a factor, this process may need a little help. Specific breathing exercises can help induce the relaxation response and get the body ready to enter the sleep cycle.