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 quickly need extra 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?
- Directly after your run: 2-3 minutes, for better recovery.
- When feeling stressed: 2-5 minutes, to calm down.
- Just before sleeping: 10 minutes, for a 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. As soon as you’re able to, change to nasal breathing. You don’t need to extend the exhalations anymore.
- Inhale through your nose (normally, not too deep)
- Normally exhale through your nose
- Pause the 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, until you perceive the first need to inhale again.
- Normally inhale through your nose again. If you feel that you need to inhale deeper, you have paused too long.
What happens inside the body?
By holding the breath for short periods of time, the gas nitric oxide (NO) pools inside the nasal cavity. With your next inhalation after the pause, this NO gas will be transported to the lungs where it will diffuse into the blood. An important function of nitric oxide is to improve oxygen uptake in the blood.
When pausing your breath, your body will send signals to the brain. You will notice the feeling that you want to inhale again. That sensation indicates that CO2 has accumulated in the blood. Most people think that CO2 is a waste product from breathing. But that’s certainly not the case! One of the functions of carbon dioxide is to act as a catalyst for the release of oxygen from the red blood cells to feed our tissues and organs. Low levels of CO2 will make oxygen release to the cells harder.
So both gasses, NO and CO2, play an important role in the oxygen delivery to the cells. But that’s not all. They also regulate the opening of the airways and the wideness of the blood vessels, which is important for blood circulation.