The autonomic nervous system in your body is a network of nerves throughout your body that control unconscious processes that happen without you thinking about them, such as your heart beats and breathing. Your autonomic nervous system is always active, even when you are asleep, and is crucial to your survival.
We generally do not pay any attention to these autonomic activities in our body unless they are a cause for pain or discomfort. However, studies show that by becoming more aware of the functions controlled by your autonomic nervous system, especially your breathing, you can have a greater control over how you feel at any given moment.
Practicing mindful breathing techniques have been shown to alleviate anxiety and stress, and improve overall mental wellbeing and quality of life of people experiencing certain physical or mental health conditions and concerns. Focused breathing is also highly rated by mental health practitioners both for its ability to lower the temperature in emotionally charged situations and to increase a person’s receptivity to more demanding mental-health interventions.
Among others, mindful breathing has been found to: Reduce stress and aid in stress-related medical illnesses, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse; and, improve immune response. It also aids in the rehabilitation of patients suffering from Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); Mitigate asthma symptoms, and improve sleep; Alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); Aid glycemic control in people with type 2 diabetes; Decrease hypertension in adults; and, improve quality of life among patients with cardiovascular disease and cancer.
There are many breathing techniques that can help you achieve mental and physical health benefits, find the one with which you are comfortable and use it consistently. If you are a beginner to deep breathing it is important to to start slow, start small, and work your way up as you condition your nervous system.
Diaphragmatic breathing, an easy and popular mindful breathing technique recommended by many health practitioners, involves the following steps:
Lie down on your back, or stand up straight, or sit in a comfortable position. To help you feel these rhythmic in and out breaths, start with one hand resting on your belly, just below the navel, and the other on your ribs, or upper chest, just below the collarbone.
Breathe in slowly as you mentally count to five, feel how your belly softens and expands like a balloon and feel how your ribs expand or chest broadens with the other hand. Hold the breath as you slowly count to seven. As you breathe out slowly count to five and feel how your belly sinks toward your spine and your ribs or chest goes slack.