It’s simple. It’s free. We do it constantly, but we hardly notice. It’s breathing, and psychological research increasingly shows that, when we do notice, it can impact our mood.
“A lot of western psychological interventions offer deep breathing for relaxation and stress reduction,” says Michelle Fury, a yoga therapist at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “From a yogic standpoint, deep breathing is a balancing practice. It balances the mood.”
That’s because the act of breathing, Fury explains, has two distinct halves: the inhale and the exhale.
“The inhale tends to energize, open, expand and lift. Not just physiologically, but also with the mood,” says Fury. “On the other hand, if we’re in some kind of stress and it’s over, we exhale — phew. The exhale deflates the lungs, empties us out, grounds us and relaxes the parasympathetic nervous system.”
Harnessing the power of breath
Energizing or relaxing is about which half of the breath we emphasize. To energize, emphasize the inhale by lengthening. To relax, emphasize the exhale the same way.
Give it a try:
- First, notice your breath coming in and out. Breathe at a pace that feels natural.
- After a few breaths, count in your head how long your inhale is, and let your exhale be the same count. For most people, the count on either side will be between three and eight. It doesn’t matter how long the count is, though. Simply let the inhale and exhale balance.
- Now, notice how you’re feeling. Are you restless or antsy? Or are you tired and sleepy? You can then adjust your breathing accordingly:
Continue counting your breaths, but note that it may take several minutes to notice the effects. And if you feel strained or irritated by the practice, stop for a while, go do something else, and try again later.
The practice is great for kids and adults alike, at any time — although Fury cautions that not everyone takes to every practice. And that’s fine, too.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing,” says Fury. “If you try it and don’t like it, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
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