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Breathing Exercises

The way most people learn that they’re having a panic attack is that they go to an emergency room and are told that there is nothing wrong with them. Perhaps this has happened to you. And the doctors have said that a panic attack isn’t really dangerous. But you’ve been thinking that you may be the first person to die or go crazy from it. And some people become so fearful of the possibility of something triggering a panic attack, that they stop their normal life activities and refuse to leave home. It’s not so much that they are embarrassed, but that they can’t figure out what is causing the attacks, so they try to limit their exposure. What most doctors won’t explain is that panic is a breathing problem. And fortunately, there is a breathing exercise for panic attacks that will help you stop them!

A panic attack is progressive. In addition to a racing heart, there are sensations of numbness and tingling, feelings of unreality, and perhaps a feeling of faintness. Thoughts begin to race – especially about escaping or dying. These fearful thoughts and strange sensations cause fear which causes the heart to race even more, which intensifies the thoughts and sensations. So panic is fear of fear.

 

The Science of Panic Attacks

Let’s take a look at what science tells us about panic attacks. You already know that your bloodstream carries oxygen to all the cells in your body. What you may not know is that breathing is how you are mostly made of water! Oxygen in your blood is released to cells to join with 2 hydrogens that are left over from each cell’s energy production cycle. Voila: H2O. Water! Hydrogens left alone are acidic (like hydrochloric acid) – so oxygen delivery protects the cells. When this is compromised, the brain stem sends out distress signals.

When people are stressed, they tend to hyperventilate. Hyperventilation involves forceful exhaling, shallow breathing, and rapid breathing. Ironically, hyperventilation may be accompanied by breath-holding or sighing, which are ways the body tries to counteract hyperventilation. Your body is built to handle hyperventilating if you’re running a race or running to safety. But it isn’t designed to handle hyperventilating when you’re watching TV. Some people, especially anxious or angry people, may chronically hyperventilate – just a little. But it ends up being enough to cause a problem.Hyperventilation interferes with the release of oxygen from the bloodstream to the rest of the body. The bloodstream is carrying plenty of oxygen, but the brainstem notices that levels in the cells are getting low. It sends a message to the heart to pump harder and faster to deliver oxygen. But the racing heart triggers more exhaling, and levels in the body get even lower. In the brain, this causes racing thoughts, and in the body even more sensations.

 

Breathing Exercise for Dealing with Panic Attacks

The great news is that panic attacks are a result of too much exhaling! That’s something you can easily learn to control. There is a very easy and inexpensive way:

Get a regular drinking straw. Place one end of it in your mouth. Practice breathing in through your nose without letting your shoulders raise, and with a relaxed belly. Then exhale through the straw — but silently. You will immediately become aware of how much force you are using to exhale. Make that gentle, so that the air just leaks out instead of being pushed out.

When you can do 7 breath cycles without hearing any exhalation noise, you will have the key to stopping panic. Control of exhaling will bring oxygen and carbon dioxide into the right balance in your bloodstream, which will allow the release of oxygen to all of your cells. Your brainstem will respond by moderating your heart rate, and by sending signals to the brain that you are well and doing fine. Some people report a feeling of peace and calm from this powerful breathing remedy.

 

 

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Protecting Yourself from COVID-19 with Breathing Exercises

Someone shouts “Quick! Hold your breath!”, what’s the first thing you do? Inhale. Right?

Take a big gulp of air. Then hold. It’s pure instinct. This is your body’s way of helping you have “enough” breath to hold it longer. The big gulp of air is designed for one thing — to keep you safe.

But now, with the new Coronavirus, the situation is different.  What is usually safe, is now dangerous. We don’t want any big gulp of virus-filled air! This is the reason that ways to slow the spread of the virus are focused on social distancing and face covering. Both are important. Consciously stay about 6 feet away from others and wear a mask or face covering.

The US National Centers for Disease Control (the CDC) posts, “We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms.  This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity —for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing— even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.

You can see that in this COVID-19 world, additional risk comes from taking the instinctive big gulp of air when you are surprised. Your natural instinct works against you. Now, to be safer, we want to mentally prepare, and even physically rehearse, the skill of a BRIEF breath-hold (BBH) — without inhaling first. You can use this power of breath control so that the virus can’t find your lungs!

 

Breathing Practices for Coronavirus Protection

Practice #1:

Stand with your back to a wall and exhale completely. Quietly relax your shoulders and close your mouth. Walk 6 large paces. Inhale through your nose and breath normally.

Practice #2:

Train with someone, or with your whole family, to learn to respond to the unexpected:

  1. Have someone be “the risky situation.”  It’s this person’s role to shout “NOW” from time to time – with no warning.  Just as someone might cough or come too close with no warning.
  2. On the command (“NOW”) everyone engages in BBH: Wherever their breathing may be in the breath cycle, everyone immediately drops their shoulders, closes their mouth. and STOPS their breath cycle wherever it is, then walks away — about 6 big paces.
  3. Then everyone resumes normal breathing. (6 big paces are about how far a virus from a strong cough can travel.)

 

Practice #3:

This is both a way to practice, and a way to release anxiety.

Most people inhale and exhale with no pauses.  You can develop the skill of breath control like this:

  1. Sit comfortably. Pay attention to your inner voice as you count mentally.
  2. Inhale (through your nose if you can) for a count of 4.
  3. Drop your shoulders, close your mouth, and rest for 3.
  4. Exhale for a count of 4.
  5. Drop your shoulders, close your mouth, and rest for 3.

Most people find the rest after exhaling more difficult at first.  It’s okay to start with a shorter rest. Even counting to 1 or 2 is a success. Take time to show yourself that it’s strange but not really difficult — after all, people can hold their breath underwater for minutes! You will soon learn that you don’t need to put so much effort and pressure into breathing. Sometimes it helps to switch senses during the hold, just like you do with other breathing exercises. Pay attention to the sounds around you. Or remember a pleasant sound. I like to recall the sound of a gentle rain.

Eventually, you may be able to use these relaxed pauses in your breath cycle to feel quiet and meditative.  To allow healing and more beneficial thoughts and feelings.  Breathing slower and focusing on your breath cycle is known to have many mental, emotional, and physical health benefits. Even more important, as the world seems out of control, learning breath control is a very deep and personal way of exerting control both over yourself and any situation you may come to face.

You can begin to use this life-saving BRIEF breath hold today.  Right now. Plan to practice if someone sneezes or coughs near you. Plan to practice when anyone ‘violates’ your social distancing space. Breath control will quickly become automatic. You can keep the virus out of your body by using the power of BRIEF breath control to safely move to cleaner air before you accept your next breath.

Have you ever felt like losing your breath in a stressful situation and not being able to focus on what needs to be done to tackle the problem at hand? When a person is under stress, their breathing pattern changes drastically. Whenever you’re out of breath, need relief for stress or anxiety, or just want to feel better in general, then this practical and well-known breathwork technique known as Box Breathing, can work miracles in improving your state.

Also known as Square Breathing, it is a technique used by everyone from athletes to Navy SEALs, psychologists, and healthcare professionals who are familiar with practical breathwork tools for stress management. It is tremendously helpful in situations where there is any kind of intense emotion triggered and one feels like things are too overwhelming to be solved easily.

 

Excessive Stress = Fear Response

We all are experiencing some level of stress in our lives daily, be it stress related to work, misunderstandings with fellow humans —yes, human relations are rather complex at times!—, getting closer to the exam period that you haven’t even started to study for, or whatever situation it might be that causes uncertainty and discomfort.

Stress is a code word for fear. Luckily there’s an easy solution: In order to manage stress and reduce anxiety, one can practice a slow breathing technique that stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and helps to activate that ‘’rest and digest’’ mode rather than your “fight or flight response” overdrive which is kicked off by fear (= stress) in your system.

In our last post, we dived into the effects of deep and slow breathing and how specific breathwork exercises are helping us to regulate our nervous system. Similarly to the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique, Box Breathing Technique also enables us to slow down our breathing and helps to practice managing our body’s primal, unconscious responses.

 

Taking control of one’s mind and body

As in Stoic philosophy, the single most important practice is differentiating between what we can change and what we can’t, then rather falling into the trap of focusing too much on the external stimulus causing stress, you can direct your attention to your breath and say: ‘’Let’s calm down for a minute. I’m going to consciously slow down my breathing and take control of my mind and body.’’

By practicing one simple breathing technique for managing stress one can experience a huge shift in their emotional as well as in their mental state. As a consequence, the given situation could be solved from a place of empowerment rather than feeling lost amid incoming panic. 

 

How to Perform Box Breathing Exercise (4-4-4-4)

  • Start by sitting upright in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor or lying comfortably in the bed — after you’ve mastered the technique then you can do it everywhere and whenever you need it,
  • Keep your tongue loosely against your upper front teeth for the entire exercise,
  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to the count of four — count to four very slowly in your head and use the diaphragm rather than the chest,
  • Hold your breath for another slow count of four,
  • Release your breath through the mouth for a same slow count of 4 seconds — the tongue position will help you extend the duration of the exhale and you should hear the sound of the air escaping,
  • Hold your breath for the same slow count of four before repeating this process,
  • Repeat several times until notice your state shifting.

 

box-breathing-guide

 

You can play around with the number of counts, for example, 5-5-5-5, 6-6-6-6 etc. — the idea is that the pattern is “Box” pattern with equal lenght. If you’re new to box breath, it may be difficult to get the hang of it in the beginning. You may get dizzy after a few rounds. This is totally normal and if you feel any discomfort then resume normal breathing.

One extra tip for the practice which might enhance your experience —it sure has spiced up my breathwork experience before— is to listen to some soothing music in the background: Nature sounds, waterfall sounds and Tibetan bowls.

 

Summary

Stressful experiences come in many forms and managing stress is vital to improve one’s quality of life. By taking control of your mind and body with this simple breathing technique, one can experience an almost immediate sense of calmness. That would allow handling any given situation with more clarity and ease.

You can perform Box Breathing technique on Huma Breath app. Simply go to the app’s exercise library, tap on the Box Breathing exercise and you’re ready to go. The app tracks your progress and guides you through the exercise so you get out the most of each breath!

Here’s a Box Breathing Guide based on Huma Breath app for you to use:

 

How can a simple breathing technique help with insomnia and stress? The 4-7-8 breathing method has been really effective for many people – myself included – at helping relax the body and mind ready for sleep.

The first time I tried it I was genuinely surprised the next day at how quickly I’d fallen asleep! It’s also been successful for some sufferers of PTSD and anxiety at reducing their symptoms by stimulating the Vagus Nerve.

In this article I’ll explain what it does to relax the body, and why it is so effective.

 

How To Perform 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise

  • Sit up straight in a relaxed position (or lie down comfortably, if you’re doing the exercise to fall into sleep),
  • Keep your tongue loosely against your upper front teeth for the entire exercise,
  • Inhale slowly through the nose (using the diaphragm rather than the chest) for 4 seconds (doesn’t need to be a full breath),
  • Hold your breath at this position for 7 seconds,
  • Release your breath through the mouth for a count of 8 seconds – the tongue position will help you extend the duration of the exhale and you should hear the sound of the air escaping,
  • Repeat several times (until you fall asleep or feel calmer, better).

To understand why this breathing pattern is so effective, we need to look at the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for regulating the automatic functions of our body, such as heartrate, immune function and digestion.

 

Two Halves of the Autonomic Nervous System

Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) – activated when we perceive danger or need alertness:

  • increased heartrate and blood pressure
  • puts us in “fight or flight” mode, ready for action
  • causes us to breathe shallow, from the chest
  • keeps us awake

Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) – activated when our body feels that it’s safe to relax

  • decreases heartrate and blood pressure
  • puts us in “rest and digest” mode
  • causes our muscles to relax
  • allows us to sleep

The sympathetic nervous system is super important, but with the busy modern life that many of us lead, full of stimulus and stress, it is activated too much of the time. Our PNS rarely has a chance to take over, which causes problems for recovery and especially for sleep!

 

Using 4-7-8 Breathing to Regulate Your Nervous System

Effects of Deep Breathing

We have minimal direct control over what our autonomic nervous system does, but via specific breathwork exercises it is actually possible to switch its state between the SNS and PNS.

When we breathe deeply (i.e., from the diaphragm rather than from the chest) we activate stretch receptors around the diaphragm linked to the parasympathetic nervous system. Any deep breathing will have this effect, but it’s especially powerful in the 4-7-8 method as we pause for 7 seconds in the slightly stretched position for a stronger “rest and digest” effect.

For many people, the level of cortisol (the “stress hormone”) is chronically high and this can hinder sleep. Deep breathing, such as in the 4-7-8 method, has been scientifically shown to reduce levels of cortisol.

 

Effects of Slow Breathing

Furthermore the rhythm of breathing affects our autonomic nervous system, with slow, controlled breathing activating the PNS. This should come as no surprise (given popular advice to “take a deep breath” when feeling overwhelmed) but it was only in 2016 that scientists first found the part of the brainstem that seems to cause this!

In the 4-7-8 pattern, each breath is very slow – around 19 seconds, so again it stimulates the part of the nervous system that allows us to sleep.

 

Reducing Effort for the Muscles

The last thing you need when trying to sleep is physical effort. It generates unnecessary heat, increases heart rate and generally prepares your body for sport rather than rest. Even something as simple as a breathing exercise can require some physical effort.

In particular, to extend the exhale for as long as 8 seconds, it is necessary to restrict the airflow out of the lungs. This would ordinarily be done by tensing up various muscles around the lungs and windpipe.

The 4-7-8 method avoids this by simply placing the tongue against the upper gums to restrict the airflow considerably. The muscles have minimal work to do and we can physically relax a lot faster.

 

Summary

If you’re like many people who have difficulty physically relaxing, this breathing technique may help you like it helped many before you. It quickly starts to activate the PNS and reduces cortisol, all while performing a meditative activity with minimal physical demands.

You can perform the 4-7-8 Breathing technique on Huma Breath. Simply go to the app’s exercise library, tap on the 4-7-8 Breathing exercise and you’re ready to go. The app tracks your progress and guides you through the exercise so you get out the most of each breath.

Here’s a Box Breathing Guide based on Huma Breath app for you to use:

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