All it takes is to breathe properly to burn fat, reduce stress and so much more. Learn how to correct and improve your health with exercises below.
Take a deep breathe. You do it up to 22,000 times a day. Chances are, most of us don’t even breathe properly, in turn can yield surprising negative effects on our health. Modern science has finally caught up to what yoga has been advocating for years. We know that proper breathing can help ease an overstressed mind, as well as play a big role in averting or alleviating heart disease, allergies, and weight gain.
Breathing is so simple and inexpensive. People can’t believe it works as a healing and preventative tool. Do the following exercises regularly, twice a day, for 10 minutes each time. The exercises will help your body and mind navigate these issues.
“When you’re anxious, you limit your breaths,” says James S. Gordon, M.D., founder and director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C., and author of Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey out of Depression. When you confine your breaths to your chest instead of using your diaphragm, your anxiety level increases. The key to relaxing lies in calming your sympathetic nervous system (composed of your body’s fight-or-flight engine, which releases adrenaline and stress hormones such as cortisol) and triggering your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your rest and digest functions and helps your muscles (and your mind) unwind.
Try This: The Soft-Belly Technique
Most people take about 15 breaths per minute, but when you’re anxious, you should aim for six or seven slow, deep ones. Gordon suggests a technique that involves inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, while keeping your stomach relaxed. To help yourself focus, slowly say the word soft in your head while inhaling, and speak the word belly as you breathe out. This technique can stimulate your vagus nerve, a central part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which runs through your abdomen and chest, and back to your brain stem.
The environment we live in is bombarded with sights, sounds, and emotions that overdrive our nervous systems. The result? Long periods of heightened blood pressure, adrenaline production, and heart rate, all of which are linked to heart disease. Breathing better can normalize high blood pressure and elevated heart rate by activating that same relaxation response via your parasympathetic nervous system.
Try This: Alternate Nostril Breathing
This technique lowers your pulse rate and diastolic blood pressure, according to a study at Nepal Medical College. (The higher a young woman’s diastolic blood pressure, the greater her risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure.) David Magone, founder of the breath-oriented PranaVayu yoga practice, explains how to do it: Sit cross-legged and close your eyes. Use the thumb of your right hand to block your right nostril, and inhale deeply through the left for about six seconds. Now, cover your left nostril with the fourth finger of your right hand, release your right nostril, and exhale slowly for six seconds. With your left nostril blocked, breathe in through your right side for six seconds; then cover your right nostril again, release your left, and exhale for six seconds. Repeat the entire sequence for at least two minutes.
When it comes to seasonal allergies, research has found that a little music-specifically, humming-can help you breathe better. Humming opens the ostia, which connect the sinuses to the nasal cavities, letting you take in air more easily, explains Timothy McCall, M.D., author of Yoga as Medicine.
Try This: The Bee Breath
Sitting in a comfortable position, take a deep breath through your nose, then let out a high-pitched humming sound as you exhale through your nose. You should feel a vibration in your nose, as well as in your chest and head. (McCall notes that humming tends to lengthen your exhales, making this another good breathing technique for those suffering from anxiety.) Continue for up to 10 minutes.
The issue of weight gain has something as much to do with what’s in your head as what’s on your plate. “Emotional stress can cause weight gain,” says Dean Ornish, M.D., president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California. “It speeds the conversion of calories to fat because you’re more likely to overeat or make unhealthy choices when stressed.” Manage the stress, and you’ll manage the weight. A great way to manage it is to focus on slowing down your breathing, which will help reduce stress hormones.
Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., author of Yoga for Pain Relief, points to another weight-gain factor that can be regulated by breathing: heart rate variability (HRV), the moment-by-moment fluctuation that can help determine how you respond to stress. “Studies show that people with a high HRV tend to have more self-control, and those with low HRV are more likely to give in to temptation,” she says.
Try This: The Pursed-Lip Breath
Slow, practiced breathing increases HRV and makes you more aware of your actions, so you’re better able to lower your stress level and get a handle on overeating, McGonigal says. She suggests a four-second nasal inhale followed by an eight-second exhale through puckered lips (as if exhaling through a straw). Another option: the Hindu breathing method called ujjayi. Inhale through your nose for six seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for six seconds as if you’re trying to fog up a mirror, making a “hahhhh” sound while pulling in your abdomen. On your next breath, try making the same noise with your mouth closed. It should sound like a seashell against your ear, McGonigal notes. If you sound more like Darth Vader, you’re probably doing it too forcefully.