Breathing for Health During Stressful Times

by Lisa Perry

breathingThis time of year can be stressful as we rush from place to place carrying heavy packages, preparing food in the kitchen, and contorting ourselves as we sign our greeting cards and put the finishing touches on our gifts. By the end of the day many will find themselves mentally and physically exhausted. It is easy to become so wrapped up in the details of our day that we actually forget to breathe. It does seem silly that we should have to remember to breathe since oxygen is the most important component to life. Fortunately we don’t really have to remember to breathe, but we do need to become conscious of how we breathe.

When we are stressed, we unconsciously hold our muscles tight/short. This muscle shortness inhibits the efficiency of our breath and oxygen/carbon-dioxide exchange. In our body’s best efforts to keep us oxygenated with shortened muscles, our breathing becomes shallow and consists mostly of inhales. If you find yourself making long sighs from time to time, this is your body’s way of trying to balance out the ratio of oxygen to carbon-dioxide (CO2). Most of us are walking around regularly with an over-abundance of CO2 inside our bodies. This over-abundance of CO2 disrupts our healthy cellular regeneration process and most ironically creates stiffness or inelasticity in our already short muscles.

Here’s a breathing exercise to help you balance oxygen to carbon-dioxide ratio:

Align the bottom of your ribs over your pelvis, trying to make your sternum vertical to the ground. Place both hands on top of your sternum. Keeping your lips closed with your jaw and tongue relaxed, inhale and exhale through your nose. As you exhale, allow your sternum to fall away from your hands. This will create more length in the front of your neck. Click here for a demonstration.

You can then start to increase the length of the breaths by counting slowly to 4 on the inhale and counting to 5, 6, or 7 on the exhale. As you get more comfortable increase your counts, always exhaling longer than your inhale. Click here for a demonstration.

The best part of the exercises above is that they can be done anywhere, anytime. Taking time throughout your busy day to remind yourself to breathe can bring you more energy and less stiffness in your muscles.

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