Do me a favour.
Have a seat. Sit back in your chair. Relax your arms on your your lap. Quiet your mind.
Now, inhale through your nose for a count of four. Fill your belly with your breath, like a balloon fills with air.
Slowly, let the breath out through your mouth for a count of eight. Feel your belly deflate as the air leaves your mouth.
Do you feel a change? Maybe you feel more relaxed. Calmer. Lighter.
Maybe you feel nothing at all.
But do you know what these few breaths just did for your body? (2)
- Your brain’s cortisol levels decreased, which helped reduce your stress
- Your heart rate and blood pressure lowered
- You improved your body’s core stability
- You boosted your energy and immune system
- You sped up your metabolism
- You have reduced symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder
You may have known that diaphragmatic breathing has several benefits to our health and wellness, but if you’re someone like me, breathing doesn’t come easy. I mean, my day is already packed – I just don’t have time to sit and practice my breathing. And when I get to my weekly yoga class, I’m eager to start the poses that strengthen and stretch me, not to breathe! Am I right?
No, I am very wrong. Yogis have used breathing for hundreds of years to calm the mind, body and soul and science is just beginning to show evidence of how truly beneficial it is for our bodies.
One study conducted at the University of South Carolina divided 20 healthy adults into two groups: one group preformed deep breathing exercises while the other read a text of their choice for 20 minutes. Saliva samples were taken from both groups during the exercise. Researchers found that the breathing exercise group’s saliva had significantly lower levels of three cytokines that are associated with inflammation and stress (7)
Another study conducted in 2017 revealed that participants who preformed deep breathing exercises were found to have a decrease in negative affect, lower cortisol levels and increased sustained attention compared to the control group. (3)
Further studies showed:
- A 1-day breathing exercise was found to relieve the emotional exhaustion and depersonalization induced by job burnout (5)
- A 30-session intervention with a daily breathing duration of 5 min can significantly decrease the anxiety of pregnant women experiencing preterm labor (1)
- 7-days intensive residential yoga program that included pranayama (breathing exercises) reduced anxiety and depression in patients with chronic low back pain (6)
- Controlled deep breathing significantly reduced smoking withdrawal symptoms, including craving for cigarettes and negative affect (tense, irritable), while resulting in the maintenance of baseline arousal (wide awake, able to concentrate) levels (4)
These results blew my mind! How is something that happens so involuntarily for us have such amazing benefits on the body?
Diaphragmatic breathing is not involuntary. In fact, conscious breathing takes effort and focus, especially when you are first starting off. I start every one of my patients with deep breathing exercises and am often amazed to find their pelvic floor strength increases and pain decrease as I see and feel their bodies relax into the bed.
When you take slow, steady breaths, your brain gets the message that all is well, which activates the parasympathetic response (2), and I think we all need a little more of that.
So, next time you find yourself busy and stressed with all the work, errands, kids, house chores and stressors that life throws at you, take a moment and breathe. Your body will thank you.
Pelvic Floor & Paediatric Physiotherapist
Sandra graduated from Dalhousie University with a Masters degree in Physiotherapy after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology degree with honours from McMaster University. She has worked with a variety of clientele but has developed a true passion in working with both the paediatric and women’s health populations. Sandra has extensive experience assessing and treating a variety of paediatric conditions and most recently has become certified as a pelvic health physiotherapist. She also has additional training in acupuncture and kinesiotaping. Sandra finds great value in guiding each individual through a tailored rehabilitation program to optimize their function and quality of life. In her free time, Sandra enjoys yoga, pilates, traveling and spending time with family and friends.
- Chang S.-B., Kim H.-S., Ko Y.-H., Bae C.-H., An S.-E. (2009). Effects of abdominal breathing on anxiety, blood pressure, peripheral skin temperature and saturation oxygen of pregnant women in preterm labor. Korean J Women Health Nurs 15 32–42.
- Lesley Alderman – https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/09/well/mind/breathe-exhale-repeat-the-benefits-of-controlled-breathing.html
- Ma, X., Yue, Z.-Q., Gong, Z.-Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N.-Y., Shi, Y.-T., … Li, Y.-F. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 8.
- McClernon, F. J., Westman, E. C., & Rose, J. E. (2004). The effects of controlled deep breathing on smoking withdrawal symptoms in dependent smokers. Addictive Behaviors, 29(4), 765–772.
- Salyers M. P., Hudson C., Morse G., Rollins A. L., Monroe-DeVita M., Wilson C., et al. (2011). BREATHE: a pilot study of a one-day retreat to reduce burnout among mental health professionals.Psychiatr. Serv. 62 214–217.
- Tekur P., Nagarathna R., Chametcha S., Hankey A., Nagendra H. R. (2012). A comprehensive yoga programs improves pain, anxiety and depression in chronic low back pain patients more than exercise: an RCT. Complement. Ther. Med. 20 107–118.
- Twal, W. O., Wahlquist, A. E., & Balasubramanian, S. (2016). Yogic breathing when compared to attention control reduces the levels of pro-inflammatory biomarkers in saliva: a pilot randomized controlled trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 16(1).