When stressed, people are often told to breathe deeply. When I have suggested this to my clients, they often say to me that they do it and it doesn’t work. Maybe it isn’t the magic pill we are all still looking for (including myself), but a solid breathing technique is at the core of any healthy coping strategy. Breathing is our life force,the prana. You don’t need your yoga pants to gain the benefits of deep breathing. You don’t even need a quiet space. All you need is your own permission that it is okay for you to let out a deep sigh, something that we unconsciously do several times a day.
Research has shown that there is more benefit in the exhale than there is in the inhale. Our exhale is what expels the carbon dioxide and other byproducts from our bodies. It is our exhale that brings the inflated lungs back to rest, signaling to the brain that the body is at rest. Yet the exhale plays second fiddle to the all-mighty inhale.
Yoginis sometime refer to an exhale-heavy breath as “Lion’s Breath” in which you are to breathe in, then forcefully exhale with your mouth wide open and your tongue sticking out as far as it can. As you exhale, let out a big “haaaaa” sound, much like a lion in the savannah taking a large, lackadaisical yawn before it lies back down to bask in the warm sun.
The point of deep breathing or deep sighing is to calm your nerves enough so you can think more clearly about your next step. It is not meant to be a cure or a panacea. When triggered, our brains go into survival mode. Logic and rationality go out the window–who needs logic when you feel like you’re going to die. Sighing will help you reset the brain’s internal system, to remind it that there is no clear threat around. It helps the brain restore rational thinking, so you don’t end up doing something that will be more harmful than helpful.
So these days, I tell my clients to not only deep breathe, but to deep sigh. And really let it out. The technique is quite simple: take a nice big breath (doesn’t matter how much or how long), and then let out a nice big sigh ahhh.
How to Deep Sigh:
When first practicing your deep sighing, find a quiet and safe place for you to engage in this exercise. Once you get the hang of it, you are at liberty to deep sigh anywhere.
- Inhale deeply through your nose. Fill your lungs with as much air as it can hold, but be careful not to strain yourself. As you inhale, you may notice your chest and belly expand outwards.
- Exhale out through your mouth. Let the air out in one big, ugly, sigh. If you are by yourself, allow yourself to get really ugly about it too, both the inhale and exhale. If your nose is a little snotty, just let it all out. If you were holding in flatulence, might as well let that out too. Your breath, your prana, is much more important than a little boogie.
*OR* you can let the air out slowly through your mouth for 10 seconds.
- Exhale until you feel all the air has left your lungs. Repeat this cycle several times until you feel calmer and can think more clearly about your plan to move forward.
*Imagine tension and stress leaving your body with each exhale.
*Don’t overdo it. If you feel any pain or discomfort, allow yourself to breathe normally.
Jazzmin Villanueva, Psy.D.