How many times have you been told to take a deep breath and count to ten, or deep breaths to calm you down?
Plenty I’d guess.
But the good news is there’s truth in it. Breathing really does help calm you. It can help relieve stress, control pain and fear, assist concentration, pick you up or simply chill you out.
The trick is in how you breathe.
I remember reading somewhere (I should pay more attention, then I could reference these people!) that breathing is the only system in the body that is under both conscious and unconscious control.
That means we unconsciously breathe all day and all night, we don’t have to worry about forgetting to do it, the subconscious mind has it in hand. But we can also consciously control the breath, holding it, slowing it or speeding it up. We can choose to breathe deep or shallow, we can choose to blow out or hold it.
This dual control allows the breath to be a convenient link between the conscious and unconscious mind. Meaning we can more easily control other involuntary systems such as the heart beat, hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol, emotions such as stress and fear. All can be conquered with the breath.
Another good explanation is that we get a plain old oxygen high. Deeper breathing makes us use more of the lung, meaning we transfer more oxygen into the blood and more carbon dioxide and other waste products out.
How do we achieve this? Well first let’s look at abdominal breathing.
Most adults chest breathe. This is simply wrong, it’s a lazy, bad habit that we have learned. Watch a child and you’ll see they breathe deep into the stomach. At what point we unlearn this, I’ve no idea, but I do know it’s time to fix it.
Place your hands on your belly, around where the belly button is. Now take a deep breath, feel the stomach expand outwards as you do so. Feel the lungs fill from the bottom up. If only the chest expands, you are breathing shallow, stop and try again. Your stomach should inflate first followed by the chest, this reverses on the out breath, and the chest deflates followed by the stomach.
If you sit straight, or lie down and just do this, concentrating on breathing right you are now meditating, believe it or not. Simple eh? Concentrate solely on the breath and nothing else. Eventually this style of breathing will become habitual, when this happens, celebrate, you are one step closer to being a natural and efficient human being.
Now let’s really get into the breathing. There are two methods I like to use, depending on how the mood takes me. Both are considered a form of meditation but as that’s a term that puts people off, it’s just a way of chilling out, or with a slight change of pace, geeing yourself up. As already mentioned it can also be a great help in controlling your emotions.
Method One: The Hundred This is simplicity itself. Count each out breath until you reach 100. Try to do this in a place where you’ll not be disturbed, until you get the hang of it, in which case you can practice anywhere, anytime.
Breathe deep into the abdomen and as you breathe out count 1, then 2 etc and so on. The trick is to concentrate on the numbers. Now 100 maybe a little ambitious, so try instead counting to ten. When you reach ten, start over. Over time you may feel confident enough to try 20, then 50, eventually hitting the 100 mark.
If you do get disturbed, don’t fret, simply start from one again.
I use this to really chill out. Great for when you’re struggling to sleep, I believe this is where the expression counting sheep came from.
If you’re looking to get your self pumped up, breath deep and force the breath out, keep the tongue pressed to the roof of the mouth and force the air past it, suck in forcibly through the nose each time. You’ll probably only count to ten here, otherwise you’ll be in danger of hyper ventilating. Great when setting up a heavy lift or stepping into the ring.
Method Two: 4-4-8 This is pure magic. As a kid, my karate instructor would have us do this sometimes at the end of the class to chill us out and get rid of any aggression. One of the lads, who suffered badly with asthma, stuck with this method. He apparently would spend around 30 minutes to an hour every night practicing and progressing. After about 3-4 months his doctor asked him what he had done to increase his lung capacity and performance by over 30%
If that’s not a recommendation, than I don’t know what is.
Here’s how it works. Breath in slowly to the count of four, hold the breath for the same count, exhale to the count of 8.
The count can be in your head, the ticking of a clock or metronome, your footsteps if you’re walking (ideally in the woods or beach, city centre traffic isn’t recommended), anything regular. I some times count 1 elephant, 2 elephant……., other times I use my footsteps as I’m walking. Doing it on the move adds in an extra challenge.
If 4-4-8 is a little tough, or too easy, change it up as you see fit. Adjust it to suit you. Ideally you stay with the same ratio, eg 2-2-4, 3-3-6, 5-5-10, 6-6-12, you get the idea. However if one part is a struggle, either the breath holding, or the exhale, shorten it. Just gradually work up to getting 4-4-8
So there you go, take a deep breath and hit the comments button to let us know how you get on.
Doce Pares Ireland / Kenpo Karate / Self Protection / Security Training
+353 87 672 6090
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