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Stop me if this sounds familiar: You wake up to a jarring alarm and are already running late, so your day begins in a rush. You hop in the car and deal with traffic. You spend the entire day at work moving as quickly as possible between meetings and projects. You then sit in stressful traffic again on the way to the gym, where you beat yourself up with a tough workout. And as soon as you get home, you have chores to do, children vying for your attention, dinner to cook and more work to catch up on.
OK, take a deep breath.
If we’re constantly living in a shallow breath pattern of anxiety, we’re actually making everything else worse. This activates the sympathetic nervous system, a high-stress state in which your body is in fight-or-flight mode. You’re always filled with tension because your body feels like it has to protect itself.
The ideal state for your body to live in is the parasympathetic, a state of homeostasis that allows the body to rest and digest. The big question is, How the heck do you get there?
Why Breathwork Matters
Do you know that euphoric feeling when you first get onto a massage table and release a long, “Ahhhhh.” That’s the state we want to live in — that’s the parasympathetic. If we tap into longer exhales and shorter inhales, we’ll automatically start to adjust our nervous systems.
There are numerous benefits to focusing on our breathing: the much-needed release of stress and tension, improved mobility, and a decrease in pain and inflammation.
This is not achieved by taking in a deep breath and drawing your shoulders up to your ears. It happens automatically by taking a slower breath in and a longer breath out. Picture yourself relaxing from the belly and opening the rib cage from the sides. Once we start to do that, we really start to change the way our body responds to stress, mobility, exercise, pain and inflammation.
Breathwork You Can Do Anywhere
The good news is, breathwork is something you can work on anywhere. You can do it in your car while you’re stuck in traffic. You can do it while lying in bed, trying to relax into sleep. You can do it during your mobility exercises or while you’re warming up and cooling down. You can even do it when your boss is yelling at you or when your kids are screaming. It’s a tool you can carry with you no matter the situation.
Here’s all you need to do: Take a four-second inhale and then a six- to eight-second exhale. Easy enough, right?
Now, if you want to kick it up a notch, here are some other things you can do:
- Simply put your hands on your lower rib cage and concentrate on making your rib cage expand side to side rather than breathing into your chest up and down.
- Start to increase the strength of your diaphragm. If you give it just a little bit of a squeeze on the side, your body will realize it’s tight there and breathe into it. You are signaling to your body to expand and strengthen your diaphragm.
- Use pursed lips, like you’re blowing through a straw, when you exhale to further strengthen the diaphragm. I’ve had people use this technique to relieve pain right away and fall asleep faster, too.
There are many different styles of breathing you can do (such as box breathing, alternate nostril breathing, and 4-7-8 breathing), but the most important thing is to just start by bringing awareness to your breath initially. It will automatically start improving your entire system, and the rest will fall into place.
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