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The Many Benefits of Breathing Exercises

profile of a woman leaning back appearing to take deep breaths
The exercise known as "belly breathing" can produce all those wonderful, stress-relieving results you crave.

by Autumn Jones

Meditation guru or not, deep breathing exercises can benefit everyone! In fact, they can improve your health in multiple ways. Compared to shallow breathing or chest breathing — which most people are used to — breathing deeply can help you relax and enhance your mood. When paired with a solid workout routine, breathing exercises can make your time in the gym even more effective.

The Mind-Body Connection

Deep breathing sounds easy, right? Well, it is! And such a simple act can actually help you relax, release toxins, reduce stress, and sleep better. Feel free to thank your glorious mind-body connection for the health benefits you experience from regular breathing exercises. According to a study published in Science, researchers found a direct connection between a group of nerves in the brains of mice that regulate breathing and the arousal center of the brain.

"This liaison to the rest of the brain means that if we can slow breathing down, as we can do by deep breathing or slow controlled breaths, the idea would be that these neurons then don't signal the arousal center, and don't hyperactivate the brain," Mark Krasnow, a professor of biochemistry at Stanford University, explains to Time. "So you can calm your breathing and also calm your mind."

Breathing Exercises

So, what's a good exercise to try? Belly breathing is super simple, requires no equipment, takes very little time, and can lead you into a deep state of relaxation. It's also super easy to remember!

First, find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other on your chest. Take a deep breath in through your nose as your belly rises (your chest should not move). Breathe out through pursed lips, feeling your belly go in as you use your hand to push all the air out. Do this 3 to 10 times, taking note of how you feel.

If you're not interested in doing structured breathing exercises, you can simply focus on taking deep breaths for minutes at a time to help you relax. When you breathe deeply, "the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs," causing the lower belly to rise, according to Harvard Health. This breathing style produces all those wonderful, stress-relieving results you crave. It can cause your heart rate to slow down and your blood pressure to stabilize. The overall effect is an uptick in calm feelings.

The best part? You can do these exercises as often as you like. If you commit to a few minutes a day, you should start feeling the benefits quickly. Find a quiet place to sit so you can focus on your breath. Take your time and feel the oxygen flow in and out of your body; enjoy the experience of releasing tension and welcoming relaxation.

Applying It to the Gym

As if the benefit of stress reduction wasn't rewarding enough, focusing on your breath can also help you enhance your workout! You might not realize it, but when you're exercising, there's a good chance you're holding your breath through a lot of the movements. When incorporating breathing exercises into your routine, be mindful of this inclination.

Try not to focus on what you're thinking or doing, as much as whether or not you're breathing. "When you are focused on your breath, you become intimately in touch with your mind, body and emotions, and very much in the moment, which improves performance," Al Lee, co-author of "Perfect Breathing," explains to the American Council on Exercise. So, how can you make the most of these breathing techniques at the gym?

As noted by Women's Health magazine, you'll want to adjust your breathing depending on the type of exercise you're doing. Although cardio requires constant and steady breath (through the mouth or nose — your choice), you can amp up your weightlifting efforts by inhaling as you exert the least amount of energy and exhaling when you hit the most strenuous phase. Similarly, when stretching, your muscles will benefit if you inhale slowly and deeply. Try that belly breathing! And as you exhale, go deeper into your stretch.

The idea of using breathing to enhance your workouts might seem foreign at first, but with practice and repetition, it will begin to feel instinctive. Making time in your schedule for this simple technique is a fantastic investment in your overall well-being and happiness.

As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.