This breathing exercise will improve physical, mental, and emotional relaxation. It can be performed to recover breath and lower heart rate after physical exercise. It is also very useful to calm down when feeling emotionally or mentally stressed.
When our body is under physical, mental, or emotional strain, some 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 better oxygen delivery to the cells.
When, how long, and what for?
- Directly after intensive workouts: 2-3 minutes, to recover from the physical stress als calm down breathing and heart rate.
- When feeling mentally or emotionally stressed: 2-5 minutes; to calm down.
You can do this breathing exercise while standing up straight, seated, or laying down. Although not required, you may close your eyes, and place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. This will make you feel your heart rate slowing down and sense the movements of your breathing.
Extended exhalations with Pursed Lips
- Exhale with lips pursed
- Extend your exhalations. You will notice that your breathing pattern becomes less frequent.
- As soon as you’re able to, inhale through the nose.
- Exhale with lips still pursed
- Keep your exhalations extended (longer than the inhalations), but not too long. The aim is not to sustain breath retention as long as possible, as that would cause some stress. That would make this exercise counterproductive. The goal of this exercise is stress relief, recovery, and relaxation.
- As soon as you’re able to switch to 100% nasal breathing. In- and exhale through your nose. You’ll notice now, that your breathing pattern has become calmer and your heart rate low.
What happens inside the body?
Everyday functions of the body like digesting food, moving your muscles, or even just thinking, need oxygen. Fresh air contains the oxygen that we need to live. That’s why we inhale it. When we exhale carbon dioxide (CO2) will leave the body.
When our body or brain faces higher stress levels, we need better oxygen uptake by the cells.
The importance of CO2
Most people think that carbon dioxide is just a waste product from breathing, while in fact, it plays an important role in oxygen delivery to the cells. Extending our exhalations will allow CO2 to stay in the body just a bit longer so that we can make optimal use of it!
An increase in CO2 will lower the pH of the blood. This acidic change will be detected by so-called chemoreceptors which will send a signal to the respiratory centers located in our brain stem. As a response, blood vessels will dilate and blood circulation improve. The needed oxygen will be delivered faster to the specific cells of the muscles or organs.
At inhalation, oxygen defuses into our red blood cells where it will attach to a protein called Hemoglobin. Another important function of carbon dioxide is to act as a catalyst for the release of oxygen from the Hemoglobin, to feed the tissues to create energy. If CO2 levels are too low, oxygen cannot be released easily.
Extended exhalations for better oxygen uptake = stress reduction
Extended exhalations allow CO2 to accumulate and give it a bit more time to do its job. Better oxygen uptake by the cells will lower stress, improve relaxation, and support recovery.