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Breathing and Relaxation

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Breathing. Something some of us may take for granted, and don’t actively take steps to improve; because why would something so “simple” and naturally part of our everyday lives, need to be thought about?! Beyond doing a physically exhausting workout, that increases our heart rate and thus forces us to breathe more heavily, there are breathing exercises you can do that have a multitude of benefits including, but not limited to: reducing stress and anxiety, improving your lung capacity (and breathing more effectively when you do workout), enhancing your cognitive function and detoxing your body.  

As a former professional athlete, I, as many active athletes do, had to focus on breathing correctly in between points or on changeovers to improve my recovery for the next point and for relaxation purposes, especially in pressure moments. You will see this across all sports, whether it be a basketball player before he is taking a free throw, a sprinter as they step up to starting blocks, or a football player as they take a penalty - it is everywhere in professional sports, so why are most of us not integrating this into our daily routines.

Through yoga and meditation, which by now you probably realise is a big part of my personal life, and these practices have helped breathing exercises have become more prominent in our wellbeing world. Here are four breathing exercises that I would recommend, that you can try at home:

  1. Deep Breathing: For this exercise you can sit or stand, and you start by bringing your elbows back slightly to open the chest. Then inhale deeply through your nose and hold your breath for 5 seconds, before exhaling slowly back through your nose. Repeat this exercise 10-15 times. 
  2. Diaphragm Breathing: Start by lying down on your back, with a pillow to support your head and neck, with your knees bent in a comfortable position. You can place one hand at the top of your chest and the other on the top of your ribcage, so you feel how your diaphragm moves as your complete repetitions. Inhale through your nose (you should feel your stomach push into your hand) for a few seconds, then through pursed lips you exhale slowly and make sure you keep your stomach muscles tight. Repeat this 10-15 times. 
  3. Sitali Breath: Take a relaxed and comfortable seated position for this exercise. Stick out your tongue and roll the tongue by bringing the outer edges together. Inhale through your mouth, with a slightly extended breath, relax your mouth and tongue and then exhale through your nose. Complete 10-20 repetitions. 
  4. Bellows Breath: For this stimulating breathing exercise, sit up nice and tall and relax your shoulder. You are going to keep your mouth closed and inhale rapidly through your nose ini quick short breaths, exhaling quickly in between. Repeat for approximately 10-15 seconds and then take a 20-30 second break and repeat 3-5 times. If you would like to add a layer to this exercise you can raise your arms straight above your head as you inhale and lower them (bend your elbows down to the side of your body, hands in-line with your head) as you exhale.

I would recommend trying to actively perform a combination of these breathing techniques for 20+ minutes a day, as the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being benefits are worth it. I had to play around with which exercises worked best for me to start with, so you should do the same, as it is personal preference, and you will quickly see which helps you the most. Regardless of which exercises you do, it is important to focus on yourself in this moment of practice, be in a quiet place, and feel appreciation for every breath you take.

I would like the key takeaway here to be that many people are struggling from anxiety, getting out of breath easily or having difficulty focusing, however, you don’t need to be and shouldn’t be waiting for any of these scenarios to kick in before you start to practise breathing exercises and techniques. Like anything, breathing correctly, effectively, and efficiently takes purposeful practice, and you can prepare yourself to handily overcome most situations. This is by no means psychological or physiological advice; you should seek medical experts for that but there are only positive outcomes to improving our bodies main functionality that keeps us living and breathing (literally). Give it a try, and see how it goes, it is such a small commitment for a big reward!

JG x

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Julia Görges


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