Day 4: Breathe
Prima's 5-Day Stress Detox Practice Deep, Measured Breathing
Inhale, exhale. We do it all day, every day.
Often without thinking about it. And yet it’s deceptively simple:
Becoming more aware of your breath - and learning how to breathe intentionally - can have a dramatic impact on the amount of stress you feel every day.
Your body physiologically changes when you breathe - and exhaling can be particularly calming.
Inhaling moves the diaphragm down, creating additional space in your thoracic cavity so blood flows more slowly through it. When blood flow is reduced, your brain sends a neural signal back to your heart to increase your heart rate.
The opposite happens when you exhale: your diaphragm moves up, creating less space in the thoracic cavity. Blood flows more quickly and so your brain responds by sending a neural signal to slow your heart rate down.
Nick Kislinger, breathwork specialist and advisor of Breathwrk, a mental fitness app that teaches you to control your mind and body through breath, recommends breathwork no matter where you are. Breathwork can be used to calm down the fight or flight response, as well as recharge, support sleep, and even reach a state of euphoria.
“There are so many unique benefits to breath,” he says. “Everybody breathes, and we do it all the time. But mostly were not choosing how we breathe and thus were not in control of how we feel. If we put our attention on the breath, we can change so much: our mood, the emotions we might be feeling, the state of consciousness that we might be in. I suggest you get to know the different breaths so you can be at choice with how you feel.
The Breathwrk app teaches you all of that and here is a simple breathing exercise to get you started:
- Find a nice comfortable seated position.
- Take a deep breath in and let it go. With each subsequent breath welcome home an old friend, your breath, has been with you in each step of your life.
- Focus your awareness on your breath and let’s cleanse some stress away.
- Inhale into your nose for four seconds, feel your belly expand. Hold your breath for two seconds. Now exhale out your mouth for six seconds, and feel your belly contract.
- Repeat for one minute to claim that sense of a more calm state of mind. Slowing your breathing has been shown to reduce hypertension, heart rate, blood pressure, and oxidative stress.
When you practice deep, intentional, measured breathing (not the short, quick inhales you take from your chest when you’re panicked) it turns off the body’s fight or flight stress response and turns on the relaxation response, says Jesse Israel, founder of The Big Quiet, a mass meditation movement. “Just like practicing formal meditation, breathing exercises (aka breathwork) can bring you back to feeling centered, resetting your body’s nervous system in a short amount of time,” he explains.
Israel recommends trying an easy breathing exercise - any time of day works, but it’s especially effective if you’re anticipating a stressor like a big work meeting or a road trip where there will be traffic. “Don’t wait until you’re in the stressful moment,” he says.
One of our favorites at Prima is “box breathing”. Also known as “square breathing”, it’s a simple technique that involves taking slow, deep breaths.
Everyone from healthcare workers to Navy SEALS have used it to help reduce stress.
Here’s how to do it:
- Sit upright, in a comfortable position. Gently exhale all of the breath out of your lungs.
- Slowly inhale through your nose for a count of four, filling your lungs with air, breathing deeply into your belly.
- Hold your breath for a count of four.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth for another count of four, pushing all of the air out of your lungs and belly.
- Hold the exhale for a count of four, intentionally focusing on how you feel.
- Repeat the process, ideally four times, tuning into your breath and body.
Easy, right? The trick is to take the time to find a quiet place and practice.
Israel says that while meditation (see day one of the program!) can be used as a preventive tool, this breathing exercise can be used as more of a bandaid when anticipating highly stressful situations.
As with any new habit, be patient with yourself - these things take time and you probably won’t be able to do them all at once. But taking one small change a day consistently will add up to a lot of stress-relief in the long-run. It’s all about incremental, slow, meaningful growth.
Believe in yourself, and remember that you are worthy of this effort - self-love starts with today, and these tools and tips are part of the journey.