Best Breathing Exercises for Improving Health and Wellbeing

Deep breathing exercises to calm, heal, and boost immunity.

A man on the beach doing deep breathing exercises.

(Mahony / Shutterstock.com)

Taking a breath is so natural, most people are not even aware they are doing it. A true life force, every part of the body benefits from oxygen. Aside from being a type of fuel for functioning, breathing may be used as a powerful healing tool. Learning to breathe deeply may enable you to boost your immune system, stay calm, improve your wellbeing, and recover faster from illness.

When you are unaware of your own breathing, you may be taking shallow breaths instead of inhaling deeply into the abdomen. Thoracic, or chest breathing, may interfere with the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body, according to verywellhealth. When you take shallow breaths, your body may not be receiving enough oxygen, which in turn can lead to dizziness, an increased heart rate, and muscle tension. 

Are you a shallow breather? Simply lie down with one hand on your upper abdomen and one hand on the middle of your chest. As you breathe in, notice which hand rises more. If you are a shallow breather, your chest will rise higher. Correcting this is easy. There are simple breathing exercises that can be done anywhere, anytime. Practice while sitting in a parked car or lying in bed, as suggested by WebMD, and try to do this at the same time twice each day.

Breathing exercises for anxiety
If you cannot fall asleep at night, you tend to worry about the future, are easily angered, or hyperventilate, it is time for deep breathing. As breathing exercises already benefit athletes and singers, they can help you too! 

In fact, a study from the Journal of the Neurological Sciences measured the heart rate and salivary cortisol in participants who did breathing exercises. The deep breathing exercises actually improved the mood and stress levels of university students.

Health expert Karen Owoc suggests pursed lip breathing for reducing stress. She told Kron4 news that pursed lip breathing may help slow down the breath, enable more oxygen to be taken in, as well as release air trapped in the lungs. With your mouth closed, simply inhale normally while counting to two. Purse your lips as if you were going to whistle, then exhale slowly for a count of four. Try this exercise five times a day.

Breathing exercises for the immune system
Many people are familiar with the Wim Hof Method, which uses breathing exercises to influence the immune and sympathetic systems in the body. But no need to climb a mountain in shorts or dive into ice cold water; a study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has done the research.

They found that a combination of meditating using visualization, breathing techniques, and exposure to cold water suppressed the immune response. These exercises enabled a production of anti-inflammatory mediators that increased to a point where study subjects had a reduction of flu-like symptoms. Researchers are optimistic that easily learned exercises may influence the immune system, helping auto-immune diseases.

Breathing exercise for respiratory illness 
Many people who have suffered from a respiratory illness may have decreased lung capacity and a weakened diaphragm, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Physical therapist Peiting Lien told Johns Hopkins that, “Working toward recovery starts simple, with a focus on breathing.” She suggests that deep breathing exercises increase lung capacity and improve the function of the diaphragm. Lien recommends lying on your back and taking breaths from the belly and exhaling through the nose, then turning onto the tummy, head resting on your hands, and doing the same.

Lien also suggests trying to hum on the exhale. Humming increases the production of nitric oxide which helps build and repair the nervous system. Nitric oxide also dilates blood vessels, and allows more oxygen to be dispersed throughout the body.

Sit upright with your hands on your tummy, and with closed lips, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Breathe in deeply, noticing how your fingers spread out with the in breath. Then breathe out with a “hmmm.” Again, be aware of how your hands lower during the out breath. Another benefit of humming is that it is soothing and assists in reducing stress, both important for healing and restoration.

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