What Will Your Next Breath Do For You?
Updated: Jun 21
The power of breath has been used for thousands of years to enhance meditation practices, induce relaxation, improve mental health, and much much more. We’ve probably heard the saying a hundred times, usually during times of high stress, to “take a deep breath.” But how often are we really thinking about our breath and the wonderful benefits that deep breathing can actually provide? With most of us living in a world filled with electronic distractions, work, raising kids, trying to eat healthy and still have some fun, it is probably safe to say that breathing is not at the forefront of most of our minds.
We know that breathing provides essential oxygen for our tissues and that it affects obvious functions in the body like heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygenation.
Yet despite that fact that breathing is vital to sustain life, its significance is often overlooked with respect to some aspects of health. For instance, did you know that breathing can also affect anxiety, stress, mood, sleep, and even bowel function?
Although it is not likely a topic of conversation while out with friends or family, who doesn’t want great bowel function? Could we lean on the power of breath to reduce our dependence on over the counter products and pharmaceuticals for diarrhea and constipation? Possibly, and, it’s certainly worth a shot.
One study found that spending 30 minutes a day focused on 4 second inhalations and 6 second exhalations for 5 days/week improved stool consistency, frequency of bowel movements, and increased vagal nerve activity (Jie et al., 2022). You might ask though, who has time to spend 30 minutes a day to practice deep breathing? Well, the beauty of breath is that it is something that humans do every second of every day. A slight shift in conscious effort to recognize and slow your breath even a few times a day can have immense health benefits. In fact, practicing 5 minutes daily of exhale-focused breath work may have greater mood enhancing benefits than practicing mindful meditation (Balban et al., 2023).
Although there are several different types of breathing techniques, I’d like to quickly outline two of my favorite breathing techniques that are quick and easy to implement even when you may be short on time; cyclic sighing and box breathing. Everyone is different, so I suggest that you try each method below to see which one resonates with you the most.
Cyclic sighing happens to be my favorite of the two. I love that the focus is on long, drawn out exhalations. This is something that I practice at night before bed to get my body relaxed and ready for a good night’s sleep. Try it a few times today or tonight to see how you feel. To start, you will take in a deep breath through your nose for 3-4 seconds, then exhale through your mouth for as long as you can (aim for double the time that you took for the inhale). Repeat as needed. Do you feel your body relax and heart rate begin to slow?
If your answer was no, try box breathing. The focus is on equal timing of inhalations, retention and exhalations. Try a 4 second inhalation through the nose, retain that breath for 4 seconds, and then exhale out through your mouth for 4 seconds. Repeat a few times in a row to feel the relaxing effects of box breathing. Ask yourself how you feel. Are you any less stressed or anxious?
Whether it is improvements in bowel health, stress reduction, anxiety, or the quest for better sleep, ask yourself what you could gain with your next breath. The short answer is life, of course, but can you improve other aspects of your health with a simple tweak to your day? Give it a shot; you might be surprised how little effort it takes to transition to a more peaceful and healthier you.
1. Balban MY, Neri E, Kogon MM, Weed L, Nouriani B, Jo B, Holl G, Zeitzer JM, Spiegel D, Huberman AD. Brief structured respiration practices enhance mood and reduce physiological arousal. Cell Rep Med. 2023 Jan 17;4(1):100895. doi: 10.1016/j.xcrm.2022.100895. Epub 2023 Jan 10. PMID: 36630953; PMCID: PMC9873947.
2. Canavan C, West J, Card T. The epidemiology of irritable bowel syndrome. Clin Epidemiol. 2014 Feb 4;6:71-80. doi: 10.2147/CLEP.S40245. PMID: 24523597; PMCID: PMC3921083.
3. Chaddha A, Modaff D, Hooper-Lane C, Feldstein DA. Device and non-device-guided slow breathing to reduce blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Complement Ther Med. 2019 Aug;45:179-184. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2019.03.005. Epub 2019 Mar 15. PMID: 31331557.
4. Kepenek-Varol B, Zeren M, Dinçer R, Erkaya S. Breathing and Relaxation Exercises Help Improving Fear of COVID-19, Anxiety, and Sleep Quality: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Integr Complement Med. 2022 Jul;28(7):579-586. doi: 10.1089/jicm.2021.0381. Epub 2022 Apr 25. PMID: 35467962.
5. Liu J, Lv C, Wang W, Huang Y, Wang B, Tian J, Sun C, Yu Y. Slow, deep breathing intervention improved symptoms and altered rectal sensitivity in patients with constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome. Front Neurosci. 2022 Nov 4;16:1034547. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2022.1034547. PMID: 36408402; PMCID: PMC9673479.
Notes: Relieves anxiety (Balban et al., 2023; Kepenek-Varol et al., 2022), reduce stress, enhances mood (Balban et al., 2023) improve systolic and diastolic blood pressure (Chaddha et al., 2019), improve sleep quality (Kepenek-Varol et al., 2022), improve bowel function (Jie et al. 2022).