This breathing exercise can be performed to improve physical, mental, and emotional relaxation, and lower the heart rate.
When our body is under physical, mental, or emotional stress, parts of our bodies will need more energy, which means more oxygen. Slowing down our breathing and pausing our exhalations will optimize biochemical processes that will help open the airways, improve blood circulation and allow more oxygen delivery to the cells.
When, how long, and what for?
- Just before your run: 2-3 minutes, to lower the heart rate for a more relaxed start to the run.
- After your run: 2-3 minutes, for better recovery.
- When feeling stressed: 2-5 minutes, to calm down.
- Just before sleeping: 10 minutes, for better and deeper sleep.
- Straight after waking up: 10 minutes, for a relaxed start to the day.
Anywhere! As long as you will be able to focus on your breathing and your surroundings don’t distract or disturb you.
You can do this breathing exercise while standing up straight, seated, or laying down. Although not needed, you may close your eyes, and place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, to feel the movements of the breathing.
If you are still panting (through your mouth) from a physical workout, then first lower the current breathing frequency. Exhale with lips pursed and then gradually extend your exhalations. When you’re able to, change to breathing in and out through the nose only. You don’t need to extend the exhalations anymore for the next exercise.
Paused Nasal Breathing exercise:
- Keep your mouth closed and inhale through your nose (normally, not too deep)
- Normally exhale through your nose
- Pinch your nose and pause breathing for 2-3 seconds. As you hold your breath, you may feel a light ‘hunger for air’. That’s normal, but don’t force it. The breath pause doesn’t need to be as long as possible. Just a few seconds.
- Release the fingers from the nose and normally inhale through your nose again. If you feel that you need to inhale deeper, you have paused too long.
Paused breathing for stress reduction
Just a few seconds of pausing can already stimulate relaxation and stress relief of the body and mind. We’ll feel more relaxed, and sleep and recover better. If we would hold our breath very long, the brain will create a stronger sensation of “air hunger”, but that’s not needed for this paused breathing exercise.
The Biochemistry of Breathing
This is an anti-viral and anti-bacterial gas that helps open up the airways, and it supports distribution of the blood throughout the lungs. By pinching the nose and holding the breath for short periods of time, the gas nitric oxide (NO) pools inside the nasal cavity. You will actually harness the nitric oxide, once you’ll inhale again after the pause. It will then flow into the lungs where it will diffuse into the blood.
For our muscles and organs to work properly, we need to inhale oxygen (O2) and deliver it to the muscles and organ cells. After inhalation, the oxygen defuses into our blood where it will attach to a protein, called Hemoglobin, inside our red blood cells. Our heart will pump the blood around. When the oxygen reaches and enters the muscle or organ cells, it will be used to “burn” fats or sugars in order to create energy. Carbon dioxide is a residue of this metabolic process.
Carbon dioxide (CO2)
When we are at rest, we need a basic amount of energy (basal metabolic rate) for the basic functions of organs and muscles that operate, even when ‘we are doing nothing’ (heart muscles, and muscles related to breathing, peristaltic movements of our intestines, etc). In order to create the energy from the fuels in our cells, we need to breathe in oxygen. And we exhale the metabolic residue: CO2. If we strain our muscles or organs more, our metabolism will work harder, to create more energy and so we’ll breathe more intensively.
But CO2 is certainly not ‘just a waste product’, it plays an important role. It is the increase in CO2 levels that is the primary stimulus for our breathing system!
Our breathing system is controlled by our autonomous nervous system. The respiratory centers that manage the rate of breathing are located in the brainstem. The nerve cells that live within these centers automatically send signals to the diaphragm and intercostal muscles to contract faster or relax at regular intervals.
We can influence the respiratory centers by improving our sensitivity to CO2 increase. By breathing exercises! However, if you’d try to hold your breath for very long, your body will override your action and force you to start breathing again.
Controlling biochemical change
Specialized nerve cells, Peripheral chemoreceptors, are located within the aorta and carotid arteries. They monitor the changes in oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations in the blood. The Central chemoreceptors in the brainstem monitor the carbon dioxide concentration in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Carbon dioxide diffuses easily into the CSF from the blood. When CO2 levels increase, chemoreceptors will signal the respiratory centers to increase the rate and depth of breathing.
An increased CO2 level will also lower the pH of the blood and make it more acidic. This too will be detected by the peripheral and central chemoreceptors. The respiratory centers respond by dilating the blood vessels, which will support better blood circulation. The needed oxygen will be faster delivered to the specific muscles or organs.
Another important function of carbon dioxide is to act as a catalyst for the release of oxygen from the red blood cells to feed the tissues to create energy. If CO2 levels are too low, oxygen cannot be released easily.
Breath pauses for better oxygen uptake = stress reduction
Breath pauses help to make optimal use of the two important gasses: nitric oxide(NO) and carbon dioxide (CO2). Both play an important role in optimizing oxygen delivery to the cells. This will lower stress, improve relaxation, and support recovery.