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Breathing is a vital part of living, though many people are not conscious of it. It is linked with mental functions.
In the Eastern tradition, “prana” denotes both “breath” and “energy.” “Pranayama” is the science of breathing and aims to regulate breathing/respiration.
Proper breathing should be done through the nose and not the mouth. In deep breathing, you should involve the abdomen and not just the lungs. Deep breathing is also known as “abdominal breathing,” “diaphragm breathing,” or “paced breathing.”
Typically, deep breathing consists of 3–5 seconds of “breathing in” and 3–5 seconds of “breathing out.” Deep breathing, if practiced for up to 10 minutes daily, can drastically improve the quality of your life. Over time, it will become part of your normal breathing without any conscious effort on your part.
Deep diaphragmatic breathing involves contraction of the diaphragm, expansion of the abdomen, and increasing the period of inhalation and exhalation. This causes a decrease in respiration frequency, promoting an increased uptake and utilization of oxygen and increased clearance of the toxic carbon dioxide. (1)
How to Do Deep Breathing
Deep breathing may be done while lying on your back or when you are sitting. But in the initial stages, it may be easier to do it while lying down on your back.
Deep breathing lying down:
- Lie down on your back in a comfortable place free from any distractions.
- Put your hands on your abdomen (to feel your way through the exercise), and try to relax your muscles.
- Inhale deeply through your nose, expanding your abdomen and then filling your lungs with air. Count slowly to 5 as you inhale.
- Hold your breath and count to 3.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth and empty your lungs completely. Again, count slowly to 5 as you exhale, and try to release any tension from your muscles.
- Continue to inhale and exhale deeply for 5–10 minutes.
- Perform this exercise once in the morning and again before going to bed.
Lying down at the beginning is best, but you can also do this while sitting. Try to practice once or twice a day, always at the same time, to establish a habit.
Diaphragmatic breathing technique (sitting):
- Sit comfortably, with your knees bent and your shoulders, head, and neck relaxed.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
- Inhale slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out, causing your hand to rise. Slowly count up to 5 as you inhale.
- Hold your breath for 3 seconds or count up to 3 while holding your breath.
- Tighten your stomach muscles, so that your stomach moves in. The hand on your upper chest should remain as still as possible.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth, keeping your lips pursed. Empty your lungs and release all the tension from your muscles. Count up to 5 while exhaling.
For best results, try to do deep breathing for at least 10 minutes daily, and do it once in the morning as soon as you wake up and once at night before going to sleep.
Health Benefits of Deep Breathing
Here are some health benefits of doing deep breathing exercises.
1. Reduces stress levels
Deep breathing reduces stress and anxiety by lowering the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
In a 2017 study carried out on 38 adults aged between 18 and 28 years and reported in Neurological Sciences, deep breathing was shown to reduce stress levels by lowering salivary cortisol levels. (2)
2. Improves attention
Performance over a period of time requires sustained attention. Any deficit in sustained attention is an indication of a mental disorder.
In normal healthy adults, fatigue, burnout, and other issues lead to a deficiency in sustained attention. Deep breathing has been shown to improve sustained attention and hence performance.
In a 2017 study conducted on human volunteers, deep breathing improved sustained attention, and this effect was attributed to the lowering of cortisol levels and stimulation of the activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) so that overactivity of the brain was minimized. (1)
3. Improves lung function
Deep breathing increases the capacity of the lung tissues by expanding them so that they can breathe in and retain more air. (3) This, in turn, improves lung function and prevents pneumonia and other lung diseases.
Deep breathing is strongly recommended for people with asthma and bronchitis. About 10 minutes of deep breathing done daily would help in alleviating the symptoms of both conditions.
Deep breathing is also useful in diseased lung conditions such as those respiratory symptoms that restrict activity (e.g., COPD, (4) interstitial lung disease, (5) and neuromuscular disorders causing chest wall weakness). (6)
4. Lowers blood pressure
Slow deep breathing has been reported to lower blood pressure by increasing vasodilation, decreasing heart rate, and stimulating parasympathetic nerve activity along with the simultaneous inhibition of sympathetic nerve activity.
It has been found that deep breathing at <10 or 6 breaths per minute for 10 minutes twice a day has a blood pressure-lowering effect. (7)
5. Facilitates better sleep
Deep breathing helps in getting sound sleep at night. It helps calm the nerves so that you can go to sleep easily and enjoy a deep, restful sleep.
Deep breathing also helps hospitalized patients enjoy a better quality of sleep and reduces the occurrence of delirium, according to a study published in 2020 in the American Journal of Nursing Science. (7)
6. Relieves pain
Deep breathing affects the sympathetic nervous system, which helps in controlling pain perception. This is the finding of a 2012 study published in Pain Medicine. (8)
7. Helps prevent obesity
Obese people have reduced lung volumes, increased respiratory resistance, and labored breathing, which sometimes lead to asthma. Hence, weight loss in individuals with obesity is associated with improved lung function and easier breathing. (9)
Deep breathing in individuals with obesity improves the capacity of the lungs to take in more oxygen, leading to a better exchange of gases and an improvement in the overall metabolism and the ability to efficiently burn up excess fat.
Moreover, a study conducted in 2012 demonstrated that deep breathing alters the body composition in individuals with obesity and prevents the accumulation of abdominal fat, thus aiding in weight loss and prevention of obesity. (10)
8. Improves digestion
Deep breathing helps to stimulate the vagus nerve, which is the route of communication between the gut and the brain. This aids in an improved secretion of gastric acid and digestive enzymes along with the regulation of muscular contraction.
Additionally, breathing exercises provide relief from the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), according to a meta-analysis published in 2020. (11)
9. Boosts immunity
Rhythmic breathing is a type of breathing exercise with four stages, of which deep breathing is one component. Regular practice of rhythmic breathing (also called sudarshan kriya) has been demonstrated to improve immune system function by the following mechanisms: (12)
- Improving the levels of circulating immune cells
- Speedy reduction of platelets and neutrophils levels produced under stress
- Reduction of pro-inflammatory mediators
10. Lowers blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a growing health concern globally. A combination of exercise and lifestyle changes is needed to combat it.
Recent studies have shown that deep breathing has favorable lowering effects on blood sugar levels. (13)
Additional Tips to Improve Your Breathing
- You can do deep breathing whilst listening to relaxing music.
- Make it a routine – try to do it at the same time and the same place daily so that you get into the habit of doing it.
- Do deep breathing twice a day if possible.
- Clear your mind of unwanted and stressful thoughts, keep your mind calm, and concentrate on breathing to derive maximum benefit.
- Do the breathing exercises for at least 10–20 minutes at a time.
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Most-Asked Questions About Deep Breathing
How do I know if I am doing proper deep breathing?
Your stomach will rise and fall when you breathe during proper deep breathing. You will also feel an expansion of the stomach rather than the chest and shoulders.
How does deep breathing bust stress?
Deep breathing stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system and helps you to relax. You consume more oxygen, your heart rate slows down, and your mind becomes calm, thereby reducing stress.
What are the signs of lack of oxygen in the body?
The signs include cyanosis (bluish discoloration of the lips, face, or nail beds).
Deep breathing involves breathing into the stomach and engaging the diaphragm. This strengthens the diaphragm and helps the lungs work more efficiently, promoting a feeling of relaxation.
Deep breathing helps reduce stress and promotes cardiovascular health and may be used as a beneficial add-on treatment for anxiety and respiratory disorders.
Consult your doctor about using deep breathing as an additional treatment to your existing treatment plan.