Breathing exercises that could help your health & wellbeing
Learning how to breathe properly can improve both your physical and mental wellbeing
Breathing is something we do every day without thinking about it – of course, it’s essential to keeping us alive, but did you know if done in the right way it can have a positive effect on our health?
Learning how to breathe properly can improve both your physical and mental wellbeing. Think of breath practice as the new mindfulness, it helps bring your mind to the present moment, which can help ease daily stresses. On a physical level, it can help lower blood pressure, help you sleep better and may even help to ease pain.
Here are some simple exercises to try – the more you practice, the more you’ll start to breathe effectively without even thinking about it. So go ahead and learn how to save your breath!
How to become a belly breather
"Most of us are shallow, upper-chest breathers, but instead we should try to breathe from the belly," says breath coach Alan Dolan. He recommends the following technique:
1. Imagine there’s a balloon inside your stomach. Breathing through your nose, inhale deeply and inflate the balloon – you’ll feel your abdomen rise
2. Allow it to deflate, then repeat
3. Do these two steps for five minutes
Top tip: If you haven’t done belly breathing before, try lying on your back with a heavy book on your stomach, then make the book rise with your inhale and fall with your exhale.
How to breathe to help improve your sleep
"This exercise is the breath equivalent of counting sheep," says Dr Belisa Vranich, a clinical psychologist. "It can lower your heart rate, and mimics the slower pattern you have when you’re asleep. You’re telling your whole body, not just your brain, it’s time for bed."
1. Lying in bed, take a big belly breath, but as you exhale, try to drop your belly as much as you can
2. Inhale for five seconds, then exhale for another five seconds
3. Focus on the sound of your breath, your heartbeat and the pace you’re breathing at
4. Repeat until you drift off
How to breathe to help support your energy levels
"When you’re feeling lethargic, try this stretch exercise," says Dr Vranich. "It opens up the muscles between your ribs and gets the blood pumping. It’s a great stretch to do first thing in the morning to help you wake up."
1. Sit up straight and drape your right forearm over the top of your head. Your bicep should be covering your right ear
2. Stretch over to your left side (as far as is comfortable) – you should feel a stretch down your right-hand side
3. Your right elbow should now be pointing straight up in the air. Now inhale deeply
4. Still leaning over, take in small ‘sips’ of air (without breathing out) until you can’t take in any more
5. Relax the stretch a little and exhale hard
6. Switch arms and repeat
Top tip: Try to do this between three and five times on each side.