In her newsletter My Sweet Dumb Brain, Katie Hawkins-Gaar writes about the importance of taking time to breathe. Not, you know, the unconscious kind of breathing you do to stay alive, but thoughtful, slow breathing, to help you stay grounded and feel your place in the world.
“When was the last time you paid attention to your breath? Take a few precious minutes right now to focus on your breathing,” writes Hawkins-Gaar. “Breathe in with your nose, pause, and then breathe out slowly with your mouth. Repeat.”
She then suggests practicing with this GIF if you find you’re having trouble.
Look at it. Breathe in, breathe out. I feel calmer already.
If it all feels a bit too woo woo for you, that’s fine. It did for me too, at first. But deep breathing, and practicing breathing techniques, can help alleviate stress, according to Harvard Medical School.
First, you need to make sure you’re doing it right. Harvard Medical School says that “when you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs, and the lower belly rises.”
It might feel unnatural at first, but it’s beneficial in several ways. “Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide,” writes Harvard Health. “Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilise blood pressure.”
Here’s how Harvard Health recommends doing it:
First steps. Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. First, take a normal breath. Then try a deep breath: Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural).
Breath focus in practice. Once you’ve taken the steps above, you can move on to regular practice of controlled breathing. As you sit comfortably with your eyes closed, blend deep breathing with helpful imagery and perhaps a focus word or phrase that helps you relax.
When you’re focusing on your breathing, you’re not focusing on other stressful or negative stimuli. For her part, Hawkins-Gaar said it helped her deal with a stressful overseas trip.
“I’m grateful that I was able to take this trip, and for all of the anxiety- and excitement-inducing moments that got me here,” she writes. “Those moments reminded me to breathe, which, in turn, kept me grounded and present.”