One of the best things you can do for your health is to practice deep breathing. It slows the heart rate, reduces blood pressure, relaxes the muscles, releases toxins, and makes us feel calmer. All good things. Yet, most of us do not breathe deeply, nor do we give any thought to the way we breathe. We breathe shallowly, especially when stressed, emphasizing inhalation at the expense of exhalation. This pattern is so habitual that we tend to breathe shallowly all of the time.

You can improve your health immediately by devoting a few minutes each day to deep breathing. Try five minutes in the morning when you first wake up, and five minutes in the evening. After practicing for a couple of weeks, you will have greater awareness of your breath and you will naturally begin to deepen your breathing throughout the day.

Let’s get started:

Step 1. Lie down on your back. Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Breathe normally, in and out of your nose, for a minute or two and just observe your breath. Don’t try to change anything about your breath. Is it happening in your chest, abdomen or both? Is your inhalation longer or shorter than your exhalation? Just observe.

Step 2. Continue to breathe in and out of your nose. Begin to lengthen your exhalation by contracting your abdominal muscles, exhaling as much air as possible. On your inhalation, allow the air to flow into your abdomen. Take long, steady breaths, and avoid gulping air in or blowing air out. Ideally, there should be little or no movement in your chest. Strive for a count of four to complete the inhalation and a count of eight to complete the exhalation. (If you find you need more time to inhale or exhale, do the best you can. Ideally, you should strive for exhaling twice as long as it takes you to inhale.) Repeat this exercise 10 times and then take a break for a few seconds. Continue the cycle of deep in and out breaths as many times as is comfortable over the course of five minutes. Eventually, you should be able to breathe deeply for a full five minutes. Do this in the morning and evening.

Step 3. At random times throughout your day, check in with yourself and notice your breath. Are you breathing from your chest or your abdomen? Is your breathing shallow or deep? If necessary, make corrections so that is slower and deeper, emphasizing the exhalation.

By focusing attention on your breath for a few minutes each day, you will derive many health benefits including a calmer state of mind. After some practice, you will naturally become more attentive to your breathing and you will begin to self-regulate during times of stress.

To Your Health,

Sandra Ludlow LAc, MSOM
Acupuncture and Holistic Medicine Inc.
1283 Gilman Street,
Berkeley CA 94706