FAQs on Breathing Techniques & How Breathing Exercises Can Improve Your Health
With Covid-19 stay-at-home orders beginning to lift and the pandemic seeming to calm down (it’s going to end sooner or later, right?), fitness centers and gyms will start to open again. However, this will almost certainly bring about many questions and concerns from fitness fiends such as: Is it safe to go back to the gym? How vigorously do I need to clean the equipment after use? Am I still required to stay at least six feet away from others?
Of course, you can always choose to exercise with household objects or continue your newly scheduled at-home workout routine to stay safe, but those who are eager to engage in community-based fitness are also asking a few other important questions: Should I exercise while wearing a face mask? Do face masks impair my breathing or lower the amount of oxygen my body gets? Will wearing a face mask slow me down?
I think we can all agree that the idea of exercising with a face mask on sounds utterly miserable. However, even if you are forced to wear one, there are ways to ensure you get enough oxygen and stay safe in the process -- and it all comes down to developing better breathing techniques and calmer breathing habits. Keep reading to learn more about how breathing exercises can help you develop stronger lungs and improve your overall health.
16 Frequently Asked Questions About the Benefits of Breathing and Breathing Exercises
- Are breathing exercises good for your health?
When you’re stressed, your body’s breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate all increase. When the stress passes, these reactions typically return to normal. However, if the stress continues, your body goes into overdrive, interfering with your ability to enjoy life and leaving you vulnerable to health problems. Symptoms connected to long-term stress include a lowered immune system, blood pressure issues, chronic pain, intestinal and stomach problems, high cholesterol levels, sleep problems, depression, and anxiety. By understanding proper breathing and using deep breathing exercises and relaxation techniques, you can overcome these stress reactions to improve your mood, concentration, digestion, and sleep.
- What is the healthiest way to breathe?
Believe it or not, there actually is a right way and a wrong way to breathe. While breathing through your mouth is sometimes necessary (sinus congestion, increased physical activity), breathing in through your nose filters, humidifies, and warms air in a way that the mouth can’t. Proper breathing begins in the nose and moves into the belly as the diaphragm contracts, the stomach expands, and the lungs fill with air. Ultimately, if you’re breathing effectively, your breath will be controlled, steady, smooth, and quiet -- even if you must wear a face mask.
- What is deep breathing and what is it good for?
Deep breathing is the process of taking controlled, focused breaths that draw extra oxygen into the body -- more oxygen that you would consume with a “normal” breath. Deep breathing is one of the easiest, most convenient, and most natural tools to decrease stress, relieve pain, improve immunity, stimulate the lymphatic system, increase energy, improve digestion, and lower blood pressure. By engaging in deep breathing exercises, you can also essentially develop stronger lungs that may lower the negative effects of the Coronavirus should you happen to become exposed to it.
- What are the advantages of deep breathing?
Engaging in deep-breathing exercises sends a message to your brain that has a calming effect. Deep breathing can reduce muscle tension, lower your blood pressure, decrease your heart rate, and reduce general stress -- all of which are crucial for your health and overall well-being. Other advantages of deep breathing include feeling more in touch with your emotions, sleeping better at night, feeling more energetic, focused, and peaceful, and having less neck, head, back, and shoulder tension. What’s more, breathing requires no equipment or additional supplies since it’s something you do naturally every day!
- What are some deep breathing techniques?
Here are some common breathing techniques that offer a variety of deep breathing exercises that can help overall body health:
- Mindful Breathing
- Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Mantra Breathing
- Square Breathing
- Nostril Breathing
- Pranayama Breathing
- 4,7,8 Method
- Belly Breath
- The Wim Hof Method.
- Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training
- ... to name a few!
- What is Mindful Breathing and what is it good for?
Mindful breathing is a powerful yet basic mindfulness meditation practice. The idea is simply to focus all of your attention on your breathing -- to its natural flow and rhythm as well as the way it feels on each exhale and inhale. Mindful breathing is particularly helpful because it acts as an anchor -- something you can focus on at any time if you start to feel anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed with negative emotions. It also allows you to sharpen your concentration skills and establish inner calm by grounding yourself in the present moment.
- What is Diaphragmatic Breathing and what is it good for?
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped, large muscle nestled at the bottom of your lungs. Your abdomen muscles are responsible for moving your diaphragm to help you more efficiently empty your lungs when exhaling. Therefore, diaphragmatic breathing trains you to use your diaphragm properly while you breathe. This technique is essential for decreasing oxygen demand, strengthening your diaphragm, using less energy and effort to breathe, and slowing your breathing rate to lower the amount of work your body must do to breathe.
- What is Mantra Breathing and what is it good for?
A mantra is a word or phrase that you can repeat over and over to help yourself focus. Therefore, mantra breathing is a technique that involves repeating a mantra so that you can focus on your breath. The phrase or phrases should coincide with each exhale and inhale. Since you are staying attentive to the mantra and remaining in the present, your mind is less likely to wander, and you are able to better relax and meditate.
- What is Square Breathing and what is it good for?
Also referred to as four-part breathing, 4x4 breathing, or box breathing, square breathing creates focus through visualization. Square breathing is a type of breath-work that can both connect you more deeply with your body and shift your energy. Start by inhaling for four seconds as you visualize one side of a square. Hold for four seconds as you picture the second side of the square. Exhale for four seconds and visualize the third side of the square. Hold for four seconds as you picture the final side of the square.
- What is Nostril Breathing and what is it good for?
Alternate nostril breathing is a breath control technique that is typically done as part of a meditation or yoga practice. As such, it can be quite helpful for reducing anxiety and agitation. Begin by closing off your left nostril as you slowly inhale through the right. The breath through the right nostril is known to increase physical energy to revitalize the body. Then switch, closing off your right nostril while slowly breathing through the left. Breathing through the left can direct energy and oxygen flow into your brain’s right hemisphere, which effectively turns on the body’s parasympathetic nervous system and enables relaxation.
- What is Pranayama Breathing and what is it good for?
Pranayama breathing, or yoga breathing, is the foundation of yoga practice. According to experts, this method can clean 72,000 channels in your body since it clears the respiratory system and cleanses the blood. By using Pranayama, you are essentially sending clean oxygen to your brain and heart. Begin by inhaling through your nose, keeping your mouth closed, until you reach your lung capacity. Hold your breath, keeping some of it back in your throat like you’re going to whisper, and slowly exhale through your nose.
- What is the 4-7-8 Method and what is it good for?
Also referred to as “relaxing breath,” the 4-7-8 method aims to help people get to sleep as well as reduce anxiety. Developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, the 4-7-8 method is one of the simplest, most straightforward breathing techniques you can do. Start by inhaling through your nose as you count to four. Next, hold your breath as you count to seven. Finally, exhale through your mouth by making a whooshing sound as you count to eight. Repeat as necessary.
- What is Belly Breathing and what is it good for?
Sometimes referred to as diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing, belly breathing is a great technique if you’re only beginning to learn about training your breathing muscles. It’s easy to practice since you can actually feel and see your body inhaling and exhaling, simply by paying attention to how your belly moves. Lie down on the floor or on a bed, and place one hand on your stomach. Notice how your belly rises as you inhale and lowers as you exhale.
- What is the Wim Hof Method and what is it good for?
A vibrant and colorful technique, the Wim Hof Method is based on three pillars: commitment, cold therapy, and breathing. Specifically, the breathing component focuses on techniques that strengthen the immune system, rebalance the nervous system, reduce stress levels, detox the body, and improve your energy level. There are four parts to this technique. First, get comfortable in a meditation posture. Next, take 30 to 40 deep breaths -- inhale through the mouth or nose and exhale unforced through the mouth -- while clearing your mind and remaining conscious of your breath. After the last exhalation, take one more deep breath, exhale, and stop breathing. Hold for as long as possible. Finally, take one big recovery breath to fully fill your lungs, holding for around 15 seconds. You’ve now completed the first cycle. Repeat three to four times as needed.
- What is inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST) and what is it good for?
Inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST) is typically geared toward those who suffer from emphysema, COPD, bronchitis, and asthma -- individuals who experience difficulty breathing daily due to swelling in their lungs and narrow airways. IMST can be helpful for enhancing physical performance and for improving the function of the respiratory muscles through specific breathing exercises. IMST is effective for improving cardiovascular or aerobic exercises such as cycling or running where endurance is particularly important. We generally use between 10% to 15% of our total lung capacity. With IMST, you can exercise the lungs for increased capacity.
- Does wearing a mask impede my breathing?
Compared to normal breathing, wearing a face mask can decrease the flow of air into your lungs, meaning less oxygen is able to enter your bloodstream. Depending on the type of face mask you wear and the level of filtration it offers, it can affect the oxygen and CO2 levels. If you are an athlete or exercising with a mask on, your body may get less oxygen to convert glucose into energy, meaning that athletes can expect to fatigue faster when exercising with a face mask. It’s better to leave the N95 masks to the medical community and consider a cloth or cotton mask as an athlete, of course, while considering the best practice of maintaining a safe distance from others if you can and for a while longer.
One simple deep breathing exercise:
While breathing is natural, deep breathing is not. It actually takes time to practice -- just like learning any new skill! Many deep breathing exercises take only a few minutes, although you can do them for as long as you want. To start, get comfortable in a chair or lie on your back in bed or on the floor. Breathe in through your nose and count to four, filling your belly with air as you inhale. Hold your breath and count to seven. Gently and with control, push the air out through your mouth and count to eight. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. As you breathe in, notice your belly rising. As you breathe out, feel your belly lower. Take three more deep, fully breaths.
One simple mindful breathing exercise:
The purpose of mindful breathing is to notice, accept, and be aware of your breath. Begin by sitting quietly in a chair or lying in your bed. Notice and relax your body, paying close attention to the touch of the bed or chair and the sensations you feel. Next, bring all of your focus to the physical act of breathing. Notice where you feel your breath in your body. It might be in your nostrils or throat, or it might be in your chest or abdomen. See if you can feel the sensations of breathing, one breath at a time. Don’t try to do anything else -- just be aware of these physical sensations. It’s okay if your mind begins to wander. Simply acknowledge these thoughts, allow them to be, and gently refocus your awareness back to your breath. Continue for five to seven minutes, building up gradually each day.
At the end of the day, you can strengthen your breathing muscles by lowering the amount of oxygen they need, leaving more oxygen for other muscles! By understanding the benefits of proper breathing and practicing the breathing exercises above, you can train your body to perform at its best -- with or without a face mask!