The idea that breathing exercises can calm you down isn’t some sort of recent development thanks to Yoga. It’s something that’s been known for centuries, as ancient Buddhist exercises emphasize the power of slowing down the breathe.
However, only now is science beginning to find out why breathing exercises work. The anwser lies in the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for the automatic functions that keep our body ticking.
Our heart, digestion and other autonomic processes are out of our control. However, the one automatic function that is in our control is our breathing.
Invoking different breathing patterns can have a sort of cascade effect, shifting our entire autonomic nervous system between a state of rest and relaxation.
In other words, using different breathing patterns we can manipulate our emotional and physiological state in ways that allow us to be calmer and less stressed.
According to science, when we inhale, we activate the sympathetic state (flight or fight system) but as we exhale we activate the parasymathetic state (the calm and collected system).
For optimal productivity during the day, it’s suggested that you use a breathing practice called Coherent Breathing, which features equal-length inhalations and exhalations at a very slow pace, without holding your breath. The ideal breathing rate for this exercise is 4 and a half to six full breaths per minute.
This is an ideal technique because it strikes a balance between the benefits of both systems. Usually people will use these techniques when they’re stressed and anxious, and while that’s a good idea, you should be getting in a routine of doing them every day so that you’re better at them when you need them.
You’ll get benefits from just 5 minutes a day, but 20 minutes a day is ideal for optimal benefits.
One problem is that it can be quite difficult to get used to slow breathing. However, there are several breath-pacing apps (Breathing Zone for iOS and Paced Breathing for Android) and you can adjust your breaths per minute until you get more practice (if 4 per minute is too hard, try 6).
The best part about breathing exercises is that you can do them discreetly anywhere, anytime.
Originally published on The Power of Ideas.