You probably already know about the mental benefits of exercise, but did you know there are also substantial mental health benefits of breathing exercises?
Yes, breathing exercises: an exercise you can perform from the comfort of your couch.
Sit back, take a deep breath, and we’ll explain how it all works.
Mental benefits of exercise
Physical exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health.
No matter your age or fitness level, studies show that working out supports healthy brain function in a number of ways:
- Reducing stress and anxiousness: Regular exercise boosts the brain’s production of norepinephrine which makes you more resilient when confronted with stress and anxiousness.
- Promoting healthy brain chemistry: Working out releases endorphins and other feel-good chemicals like dopamine. This improves both sleep quality and your overall mood.
- Reducing degradation and supporting memory: Exercise can also help slow down the negative effects of aging. This improves memory, speed, learning, and cognitive ability especially as you age.
In order to reap the long-term mental benefits of exercise, it’s important to work out on a regular basis – even at low-impact, even for short periods of time.
What about the mental health benefits of breathing exercises?
It’s impossible to reduce every single stressor from your life.
Think about it. Even planning a vacation can be stressful. Unfortunately, humans are exposed to more stress than ever.
Whenever you’re in a stressful situation, your brain goes into fight-or-flight mode. Over time, this can lead to increased cortisol production, adrenal fatigue, and even heart conditions.
You probably already recognize that relationship or money problems are major stressors, but what about the ones you don’t think about? Facebook arguments, traffic jams, phone calls, stubbed toes, shopping – the list is endless.
Working out can help, but can you do anything else?
Actually, yes. Deep breathing exercises can invoke a relaxation response in the body.
Improving oxygen flow
Breathing isn’t something people think about too often – it just kind of happens.
Think about how you’re breathing right now. Are you taking deep and long breaths or short shallow ones?
Deep breathing isn’t a natural occurrence. It’s something you need to stop, think about, and force yourself to do. Shallow, short breathing is normal, but it reduces oxygen flow and increases tension throughout the body. This, of course, leads to anxious feelings and overall stress.
During deep breathing exercises, your lungs receive as much oxygen as possible which slows down your heartbeat and reduces blood pressure.
Deep breathing exercises
Nadi Shodhana is a Sanskrit breathing exercise which translates as “flow purification.” It’s also known as alternate nostril breathing. Practice this exercise in the morning on an empty stomach to get the full range of benefits all day long.
- Sit on a chair or cross-legged on the floor.
- Take a few deep breaths to establish deep, natural, and rhythmic breathing.
- Inhale, close your right nostril with the thumb of your right hand, and exhale through your left nostril.
- Take a deep breath through your left nostril, exhale, and inhale again.
- Release your thumb and simultaneously place your right pinky finger over your left nostril.
- Repeat the process for about five minutes.
This breathing exercise is an excellent tool for combatting acute stress. When you feel that fight-or-flight response creeping, stop what you’re doing and complete this breathing exercise for immediate relief.
- Place the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth on the roof of your mouth.
- Take a deep breath through your nose while counting to four.
- Hold your breath while counting to seven.
- Exhale and make a whooshing sound while counting to eight.
- Repeat this process at least three times.
Sometimes sitting still while thinking about your breath and heart rate can be a stressful experience in itself. You can achieve the mental benefits of breathing exercises through other means. Focus on incorporating deep breathing exercises into these activities:
- Tai chi
- Nature walks
- Mindfulness meditation
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