Restorative Breathing: Not Just for Yogi’s!

Breathing techniques have become a popular, simple and effective way to make stress management accessible in the everyday tool kit for many people. Stress can impact our breathing by increasing the respiratory rate which leads to shallow breathing. When this happens, changes occur in our blood and nervous system that lower our thresholds and make us feel more ‘on edge’.

Shallow breathing also impacts our musculoskeletal functioning and can lead to restriction through the muscles and joints including those around the spine, ribs, neck and shoulders. If we can recognise these sensations, pausing and drawing on a breathing technique can not only help us relax, but also has a direct impact on our heart rate, brain, digestion and immune system via the vagus nerve. Helping us to regulate all these areas. 

For some people, this may be the hardest part- to actually recognise when breathing is sub optimal. In this instance you could try leaving yourself a visual reminder such as a frame or sticky note simply saying ‘breathe’. Another option is setting up reminders to pop up on your phone throughout the day. Small check in’s throughout the day will have great benefits, as will practising on waking, or before settling for sleep.

There are a range of different techniques you can practise when consciously breathing.

Points to remember:

  • Adjust the length of any counting practice to your current state. Extend as you relax.
  • You may experience lightheadedness especially when beginning, this should pass as you continue to breathe. 
  • Try to direct breath towards your belly encouraging it to expand on the inhale.
  • Breathing practice is best done in a seated position or laying down.

Here is an example breathing exercise to try:

BOX breathing:

This is breathing and holding the breath in equal parts as follows:

>>Breathe in for 1,2,3,4

>>Hold for 1,2,3,4

>>Exhale for 1,2,3,4

>>Hold for 1,2,3,4

You can visualise the breath drawing the outlines of a box as you count. You may prefer a rectangle shape where the hold is a little shorter than the inhale and exhale.

How we breathe plays a crucial role in our health and wellbeing. The effects of practising mindful breathing can be immediate as well as long term. Over time, it becomes easier to recognise stressed states and to drop into a relaxed state quicker through the practice of breathing. 

The Myotherapy and Osteopathy practitioners at Blackburn Allied Health have experience addressing the discomfort associated with breathing related presentations and many other conditions.

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