Breathe in. Hold…hold…and release.
Now do that again, same procedure, a few more times.
What you just achieved, besides relaxing yourself, was “controlled breathing.” This practice has the goal of reducing stress, increasing alertness and boosting your immune system. (And who doesn’t need a bit more of ALL of that?!) It can also help overcome anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder.
“Breathing is massively practical,” says Belisa Vranich, a psychologist and the author of the book Breathe, due to be released in paperback in late December. “It’s meditation for people who can’t meditate,” and helps them take care of themselves from the inside out…one mindful breath at a time.
Scientists are still studying the benefits of controlled breathing. One theory states that it can change the response of the body’s autonomic nervous system. “If you breathe correctly, your mind will calm down,” says Dr. Patricia Gerbarg, New York Medical College’s assistant clinical professor of psychiatry. The effects of controlled breathing go hand in hand with yoga—decreasing depressive symptoms and increasing levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (often referred to as GABA), which is your major inhibitory or relaxing brain chemical.
If you have the time to learn just one breathing technique, this is the one to test drive. Try it right now, as you’re reading this, and give yourself a mini-break in your busy day.
The goal here is to breathe at a rate of five breaths per minute, which generally translates into inhaling and exhaling to the count of six. Take your time if this is your first attempt at a breathing exercise:
- Sitting upright or lying down, place your hands on your belly.
- Slowly breathe in, expanding your belly, to the count of five.
- Slowly breathe out to the count of six.
- Work your way up to practicing this pattern for 10 to 20 minutes a day.