Deep Breathing

Deep Breathing: A Complete Guide to the Relaxation Technique

By Becky Upham

Medically Reviewed by Justin Laube, MD

Taken on 03.16.222 from: https://www.everydayhealth.com/wellness/deep-breathing/

If you’re reading this, you’re breathing. What’s interesting about breathing is we do it regardless of whether we’re thinking about it — that is, this essential bodily function is subconscious or involuntary, according to the book Human Biology published by Thompson Rivers University. Yet we can also voluntarily control our breathing when we are conscious of our breathing patterns. For example, we can choose to control our breath by slowing it down or speeding it up, or by taking shallow or deep breaths.

How we breathe affects our health. By breathing more deeply or controlling our breath intentionally, we can impact our body in a number of positive ways, says Baxter Bell, MD, a former family doctor who now works as a certified yoga instructor and practices medical acupuncture. “For starters, we can lower our blood pressure and stress level, and think more clearly,” he says. Feeling calm and centered after deep breathing is common, and a breathing practice can promote a greater sense of well-being, he says.

If you’re interested in how deep-breathing works and how it can be beneficial, keep reading to find out more about this valuable health tool that requires no special equipment and can be accessed at any moment of your day.

What Is the Function of Breathing?

There are two phases of breathing: inhaling (taking breath in) and exhaling (breathing out). When you inhale, the diaphragm — which is the big, dome-shaped muscle located between your lungs and your heart — contracts and moves downward. This creates extra space in the chest cavity, and the lungs expand into it. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes as the amount of air in the lungs is reduced.

Breathing is essential to life because our bodies require oxygen to function; moving your muscles, digesting food, and even reading these words are all body processes that require oxygen. Breathing also helps the body get rid of carbon dioxide, which is created as a waste product of these processes.

What Is Deep Breathing?

Controlling the breath can be part of a yoga or mindfulness practice, but breath-focused meditation doesn’t have to be deep breathing, says Dr. Riehl. “Some yoga breathing can be similar to diaphragmatic breathing, but it can sometimes be very different. For example, [for] some breathing patterns in yoga, you are supposed to keep your mouth closed,” she says. In diaphragmatic breathing or deep breathing, you typically are encouraged breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, she says.

“Breath-focused meditation can be an entry point of bringing you to a mindful place, accepting the present moment for what it is. Your breath is the one true thing that is present in the moment — you can’t breathe ahead, and you can’t breathe backwards,” says Riehl.

“In meditation or guided relaxation, oftentimes the practice will begin with an awareness of your breath as you breathe in and out, but you might not practice deep breathing or change anything about your breath pattern,” she says.  

“It might just be an invitation to pay attention to or notice: Are you breathing quickly or slowly? Is it shallow or deep? That aspect of mindfulness or starting a meditation is a little bit different from intentionally practicing diaphragmatic breathing,” says Riehl.

 Downsides of Shallow Breathing

“Stress can shift our breathing,” says Riehl. “We can become shallow breathers in the face of stress or tension.”

This usually has to do with our body’s sympathetic arousal, which can be activated in times of stress, she says. This is also known as the “fight or flight response,” and the release of hormones can drive up our breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure, says Riehl. This response prepares the body to survive a real or perceived threat, so whether there’s a car swerving at you or you’re going to talk to your boss about a raise, the body’s sympathetic system responds similarly, as an article published in July 2021 in StatPearls notes.

Shallow breathing can lead to physical tension in different parts of your body, including your shoulders, jaw, hands, or back, she says. “That tension also is associated with increased GI distress. Overall, it can have a snowball effect — stress might trigger more shallow breathing, and then the physical effects can lead to more stress,” she says.

 Abdominal vs. Chest Breathing

We’re all born as deep breathers, says Riehl. “Think about a sleeping infant. Their little bellies rise and fall slowly and peacefully — you can see that really clearly,” she says.

When we move out of infancy and begin to move and run around more, we shift from being belly breathers or deeper breathers to breathing from our chest more, says Riehl.

Chest breathing still gets the job done of moving the air through our lungs, but the breath tends to be shorter and more shallow, says Dr. Lin. “For most of us, when we’re engaged in our everyday breathing, we’re just breathing using the upper half or top third of our lungs. When you take a deep breath in, your chest is rising, but for most people, your abdomen is not moving at all,” she says.

Abdominal breathing starts in the nose and moves to the stomach as the diaphragm contracts, causing the belly to expand and the lungs to fill with air.

 Compared with chest breathing, abdominal breathing not only brings in more oxygen, but it’s also more efficient, because it pulls down on the lungs. The negative pressure that’s created results in more air flowing into the lungs.

Potential Health Benefits of Deep Breathing

A key benefit of deep breathing is that it can help manage stress, which is a contributor to many health conditions, says Bell. While research results on deep breathing vary, experts agree deep breathing is safe for most people to try.

Whether done alone, as a meditation, or in combination with a movement practice like yoga, this complementary approach may be worth trying if you are dealing with a health condition. For instance, deep breathing may help you manage or improve:

  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) Improves air circulation and quality of life with COPD and helps with hyperventilation, lung function, and quality of life in mild to moderate asthma
  • Neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease, which can cause dysphagia and breathing issues at advanced stages and migraine [headaches]
  • High blood sugar levels and oxidative stress, which contribute to disease progression, in type 2 diabetes
  • Recovery from COVID-19 because it can help boost lung capacity, improve diaphragm function, and lessen stress levels associated with the novel coronavirus

Riehl has witnessed the benefits of deep breathing among her patients with GI conditions, which include IBS and UC. The way the diaphragm moves in deep breathing can allow for a reduction in tension in the digestive tracts, she says. “This can aid digestion and help with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) symptoms, constipation, and diarrhea,” says Riehl.  

In terms of emotional wellness, the ability to employ deep breathing when you find yourself overwhelmed or overstressed can be very helpful in the way we feel and think. “The more stressed we become, the harder it can be for us to think clearly,” she says.

Though their origins are complex, mental health disorders are associated with high stress levels.

Often people who are facing chronic stress, which has gotten even more common since the pandemic, have their normal breath rhythm disrupted, explains Bell. “That imbalance could contribute to anxiety, insomnia, or any number of unwanted effects. By doing mindful breath exercises, they can start to rebalance their breath system,” he says.

Are There Any Health Risks Associated With Deep Breathing?

In the scheme of interventions, deep breathing is very low risk, says Riehl. “Sometimes people will say when they are learning diaphragmatic breathing that they can feel a little light-headed. That’s because they are putting more oxygen in their body than they are typically used to,” she says, and levels of carbon dioxide are lowered, notes MedlinePlus. It might make you feel different from how you typically feel when you breathe, but it’s not dangerous in any capacity, she adds. If you have any concerns or discomfort such as pain or excessive light-headedness when starting a deep breathing technique, consult your healthcare team.

How to Start Practicing Deep Breathing

You might plan to set aside time each day to practice deep breathing, or you can choose to do it whenever you find yourself feeling stressed or overwhelmed, says Riehl. Because deep breathing can be a natural sleep aid, doing it before bedtime can also be helpful.

“In those stressful times, you might even catch yourself holding your breath or gasping a little bit. If you can shift that through deep breathing or another relaxation technique, you can have a little bit more control of activating what’s called our parasympathetic system, or our body’s relaxation response. By doing that, we can bring things back to baseline,” she says.

A Simple Deep-Breathing Exercise for Beginners

Riehl regularly works with deep-breathing newbies, and she suggests the following exercise to get started.

Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Breathe normally; you’ll probably notice how the top hand is moving more than the bottom hand. Riehl says your goal is to shift that so that the top hand remains steady and the bottom hand begins to move as the belly rises and falls.

Allow your belly to be soft as you take a deep breath in through your nose. Counting to yourself can be helpful to get into a rhythm; breathe in through your nose to about a count of 4, she says. As you breathe in, the belly is going to rise very slowly and then as you exhale, the belly will fall. “Try to make your exhale last a second or two longer than your inhale,” says Riehl. “Practice that for 6 to 10 breaths; you don’t need to do this for 20 minutes if you’re new to deep breathing.”

Once you get comfortable with it, you can let go of counting if you want to, she says. “Just notice it takes a couple seconds to breathe in and for that belly to rise, and then a couple seconds to breathe out and for the belly to fall, aiming to have your exhale last just a little bit longer than your inhale.”

Slowing down and controlling breath during a difficult situation — whether you’re feeling anxious, have a flare-up of lower back pain, or something else — can make a real difference, says Bell. “It can give a sense of control in situations where we often feel out of control. It’s empowering to have something you can immediately put into action,” he says.

The Nature Fix: The Three-Day Effect

Thank you to REI and Florence Williams for this wonderful read. Science is backing up what we already know about the healing power of nature. 

THE NATURE FIX: THE THREE-DAY EFFECT

written by: Florence Williams

Ken Sanders is a seller of rare books in Salt Lake City. Before that, he used to guide rafting trips down the Green and Colorado rivers for commercial clients and for his pals, like Edward Abbey. Starting on the third day, he’d notice the vibe of the whole group change.

“An awareness sets in that the river is now your new reality,” says Sanders, who’s been running rivers for 40 years. “The ritual of unloading the boats, setting up your campsite, gathering around the fire, sharing meals, etc. is now your day-to-day existence. It’s a bonding experience. Your old reality fades away.”

Sanders shared his observation with cognitive neuroscientist David Strayer, who teaches and conducts research at the University of Utah. It immediately struck a chord with Strayer, an avid backpacker who noticed that some of his best ideas emerged after three days of camping out.

“Having hiked around the desert for years, I noticed in myself, and from talking to others, that people think differently after being out in the desert. Their thoughts are clearer, they’re certainly more relaxed, they report being more creative,” says Strayer. “If you can disconnect and experience being in the moment for two or three days, it seems to produce a difference in qualitative thinking.”

Strayer wanted to find ways to test what he started calling “the three-day effect,” a kind of neural reboot that might boost creativity. “I wanted to try to understand what was going on inside the brain,” he says.

So, for a study published in 2012, Strayer and his colleagues Paul and Ruth Ann Atchley from the University of Kansas administered tests to 28 backpackers before and after going on Outward Bound trips. Immediately after a trip, the participants performed 47 percent better in a word-test game that measures creative thinking and insight problem-solving. The game is called the Remote Associates Test, or RAT. It poses a series of three words; for example, tug, gravy and show. The test taker has to come up with the fourth word that fits with all three; in this case, boat.

“A near 50 percent improvement is huge!” says Strayer.

What caused it? Strayer believes the frontal cortex (our executive taskmaster) of the backpackers’ brains got a much-needed break. Strayer often studies networks in the brain, especially the attention network, which typically gets pretty fried in the normal course of life these days. So many things demand our attention: emails, pings, deadlines, chores, grocery lists, elusive parking spots, and, as William Wordsworth put it, all the “getting and spending.” The world, wrote the poet, “is too much with us.” And that was in the early 1800s!

When the attention network is freed up, other parts of the brain appear to take over, like those associated with sensory perception, empathy and productive day-dreaming.

“That first day in nature, your mind is recalibrating and you start to notice things a little bit, to unwind from the modern world,” says Strayer. “You notice cloud patterns, sounds and smells, and it becomes really acute. You don’t need a watch anymore. You forget what day of the week it is.”

The Strayer team’s results caught the attention of some other neuroscientists, such as University of Nebraska researcher Frank Ferraro III, who normally studies addictive behaviors. Curious to see if he could replicate the creativity findings, he gave a similar RAT test to college students before and after a six-day canoeing trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. This time he also had a control group, a bunch of students who would take the test six days apart in a classroom setting. The earlier results were confirmed: The campers showed a 50 percent improvement after the trip, but there was no meaningful change in the control group.

An older study suggests the cognitive surge isn’t just a vacation effect. In 1991 psychologist Terry Hartig and colleagues tested backpackers as well as people taking sightseeing and other types of vacations, and found increased performance only in the backpackers.

Now Strayer is drilling down further to a part of the attention network, the midline of the frontal cortex, where theta waves become active when we are performing demanding cognitive tasks. He already has data indicating those waves quiet down out in nature, but not, notably, if you’re using your phone at the same time.

His advice: Go outside for three days, and turn the phone off.

Ken Sanders agrees. “I think it takes the first two days and nights to wash away whatever veneer of civilization you have brought with you. The new reality begins on that third day.”

Borrowed on May 8, 2020 from:  https://www.rei.com/blog/camp/the-nature-fix-the-three-day-effect

TELE-MENTAL HEALTH

TELEMENTAL HEALTH – INFO & OPTIONS

Because mental health care is not an option or a luxury.

Due to the recent coronavirus outbreak, I am currently offering both tele-mental health and in-office sessions. Meeting online is safe and secure with a HIPAA compliant Zoom platform.

  1. Before your appointment, please download the required tele-mental health paperwork  (even if you are an existing client and have filled out the initial paperwork).  I will link the paperwork below once it is ready.  IMPORTANT – DO NOT email the paperwork back to me as it will contain private and sensitive information. Together we will determine the most appropriate way to get the paperwork back to me.
  2.  I’ll send you an invite to my online office via Zoom prior to your session. All  you need to do is get online, open your email and click on the link. 

Shinrin-Yoku

I’ve loved hiking in the woods ever since my Aunt Ree took me on my first walk in the woods as a small child. It felt like I entered a brand new world – a magical world of trees, moss and animals. A world apart from my normal everyday life, which was far from magical and far from peaceful. I still remember having my peanut butter and jelly sandwich with her on a stop along the trail. It was the most peace I had ever felt. Still today, I find solace in the woods, and hike as often as possible. 

Tomorrow I am taking a class in Shinrin-Yoku –  or “forest bathing”.  I already KNOW how great I feel after being in nature, hiking, kayaking, walking – but I’m excited to learn more about the health benefits of forest bathing from a scientific standpoint. Below is a great article written by Karin Evans and published in the Greater Good Magazine.

I’ve also added a quick 1 minute video (scroll down to the bottom) for those who don’t have the time to read the article; i.e. those of you that would probably benefit from a great forest bath  😉

Why Forest Bathing Is Good for Your Health

From the Greater Good Magazine – Science Based Insights for a Meaningful Life
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_forest_bathing_is_good_for_your_health#thank-influence

Though any kind of nature can enhance our health and happiness,
there’s something special about being in a forest.

BY KARIN EVANS | AUGUST 20, 2018

“Nature deficit disorder” is a modern affliction. With more people living in cities, working in high-rise office buildings, and becoming addicted to their innumerable electronic devices, many of us are indeed experiencing a nature deficit. This is true for children and adults alike.

In his new book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, Japanese medical doctor and researcher Qing Li presents some sobering statistics: By 2050, according to the United Nations Population Division, three quarters of the world’s people will live in cities. Even now, the average American spends 93 percent of the time indoors, and some ten hours a day on social media—more than they spend asleep.

The Kumano Kodo trail in Japan

In Japan, there’s enough awareness about this deficit that Li heads up an organization called The Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, which promotes research on the therapeutic effects of forests on human health and educates people on the practice of forest bathing. His book—a companion to the center he runs—explores research on these benefits, while offering a number of techniques we can use to enhance them.

“Some people study forests. Some people study medicine. I study forest medicine to find out all the ways in which walking in the forest can improve our well-being,” writes Li.

The history of forest bathing

Japan is a country that is both urbanized and heavily forested. Trees cover two-thirds of the island’s landmass, and yet a majority of Japan’s people live in crowded city conditions. Li himself lives in Tokyo, a city he describes as “the most crowded city in the world.”

Perhaps that’s why the art of “forest bathing”—shinrin-yoku—began there. Forest bathing involves slowly walking through a forest, taking in the atmosphere through all your senses, and enjoying the benefits that come from such an excursion.

In 1982, Japan launched a national program to encourage forest bathing, and in 2004, a formal study of the link between forests and human health began in Iiyama, Japan—a place particularly known for its lush, green forests. Now, each year upwards of 2.5 million people walk those forest trails as a way to ease stress and enhance health.

Li’s interest in forest research began when he was a stressed-out medical student. He went away for a week of forest camping, and found it restored his physical and emotional health. That inspired him to begin researching the benefits of forests on human health and well-being. In 2004, he helped found the Forest Therapy Study Group, aimed at finding out why being among trees makes us feel so much better.

The healing power of the forest

<a href=“http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/052555985X?ie=UTF8&tag=gregooscicen-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=052555985X”><em>Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness</em></a> (Viking, 2018, 320 pages)

Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness (Viking, 2018, 320 pages)

After years of careful study, Li has found that spending time in a forest can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and anger; strengthen the immune system; improve cardiovascular and metabolic health; and boost overall well-being.

“Wherever there are trees, we are healthier and happier,” writes Li. And, he adds, it isn’t about exercising—like hiking or jogging—it’s simply about being in nature.

Why would this be? It’s long been recognized that humans have a biological need to connect with nature. Some 20 years ago, American biologist E. O. Wilson noted that humans are “hardwired” to connect with the natural world, and that being in nature had a profoundly positive effect on human health.

Li’s research seems to corroborate this. For example, one of his studies looked at whether forest bathing could improve sleep patterns among middle-aged Tokyo office workers who tended to suffer sleep deficiency due to high levels of stress. During the study, participants walked the same amount of time in a forest that they usually did in a non-forest setting on a normal working day. After a walk in the forest, participants were significantly less anxious, slept better, and slept longer. In addition, researchers found that afternoon walks were even more beneficial than morning walks.

“You sleep better when you spend time in a forest, even when you don’t increase the amount of physical activity you do,” reported Li.

To further assess the effects of time spent in a forest, Li measured people’s moods before and after walking in the woods or in an urban environment. While other studies have shown that walking anywhere outdoors reduces depression, anxiety, and anger, Li found that only the experience of walking in a forest improved people’s vigor and reduced fatigue.

The health secrets of trees seem to lie in two things—the higher concentration of oxygen that exists in a forest, as compared to an urban setting, and the presence of plant chemicals called phytoncides—natural oils that are part of a plant’s defense system against bacteria, insects, and fungi. Exposure to these substances, says Li, can have measurable health benefits for humans. Physiological stress is reduced, for example, and both blood pressure and heart rate are lowered. Evergreens—pine, cedar, spruce, and conifers—are the largest producers of phytoncides, so walking in an evergreen forest seems to have the greatest health benefits.

How to do forest bathing

So, is there a specific art to forest bathing? Or is it just as easy as a walk in the woods?

Connecting with nature is simple, writes Li. “All we have to do is accept the invitation. Mother Nature does the rest.” Here are some of his suggested steps.

Find a spot. Depending where you are, find a good source of nature. One doesn’t need to journey deep into a forest for these benefits. Just look for any green area. It could be an urban park, a nature preserve, or a trail through suburban woods. Forests with conifers are thought to be particularly beneficial.

 “Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you,” Li says. Some people will respond to sunny glades, others to shadier places. Listen to your own wisdom. For people who don’t have access to a forest, or can’t get outside for some reason, infusing essential tree oils in your home can provide benefits, too.

Engage all your senses. “Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands, and feet,” says Li. Actively listen, smell, touch, and look. “Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm.”

Don’t hurry. Slow walking is recommended for beginners. And it’s good to spend as much time as possible. You’ll notice positive effects after twenty minutes, says Li, but a longer visit, ideally four hours, is better.

Try different activities. Try doing yoga in the woods, or Tai chi, or meditation. Take a picnic. Write a poem. Study plants. You can venture alone, or with a companion. In Japan, forest walking therapists are even available.

Appreciate the silence. One of the downsides of urban living is the constant noise. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a wooded area that’s free from human-produced sound. Silence is restorative, and a forest can have its own healing sound—rustling leaves, a trickle of water, birdsong. Spend a few quiet moments with a favorite tree. If nothing else, when we connect with nature we are reminded that we are part of a larger whole. And that, Li notes, can lead us to be less selfish and to think more of others.

Li’s book, which includes illustrations and a map of “40 Beautiful Forests Across the World,” is an invitation and an inspiration to take a walk in the woods, wherever you are.

VIDEO:  What is Japanese Forest Bathing and How Can It Improve Your Health?

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