“Just breathe.” Have you ever received this advice when feeling stressed or anxious? While it may seem simple, harnessing the power of your breath can have a significant impact on stress levels. This is particularly important for people with diabetes, as stress can increase glucose levels. Many people also find that breathing exercises can help them make healthier choices in their daily lives. Below we cover some helpful breathing exercises that you can use to destress and protect your overall health.
Benefits of Breathing Exercises to Reduce Stress
Our breath gives us great insights into how our bodies are feeling throughout the day, especially in times of stress. Being mindful of our breathing patterns allows us to calm our bodies when needed. It can also help manage a wide array of stress-related conditions such as depression, anxiety, and inflammation.
For individuals with diabetes, mindful breathing is essential because it decreases the likelihood of unhealthy eating habits.
How Breathing Affects Our Body
As stress levels increase in your body, your heart rate and blood pressure increase. While this is occurring, your muscles tense, and stress hormones are also released. This ‘fight or flight’ reaction – while necessary – has adverse effects on the body when it’s happening frequently.
The good news is that excess stress can be managed through easy and effective mindful breathing exercises. These breathing exercises have been shown to have a positive effect on your overall health.
Belly (Diaphragmatic) Breathing - Great for Beginners
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
- Place one hand on your belly button and the other hand on your chest.
- Slowly inhale through your nose, directing the air to your lower lungs. The hand on your chest should not move. While the hand on your stomach should rise as your lower lungs fill with air.
- Exhale to empty your lungs completely through pursed lips, creating a whooshing sound.
- Repeat 5-10 times. Note how you feel after the exercise as compared to before.
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
- Place one hand on your belly button and the other hand on your chest. Focus on bringing the breath to your lower lungs, pushing out the hand resting on your belly.
- Count to 4 as you breathe in. Hold your breath for 7 counts, and then exhale for 8 counts. Make sure to completely empty the air from your lungs.
- Repeat 5-7 times.
- Do the ‘belly breathing’ exercise 8-10 times.
- Continue belly breathing but include the upper chest this time. Inhale into the lower lungs as before and continue drawing air into the upper chest. The belly hand should raise and then lower as the air moves to the upper chest and raises that hand. Think of the rolling movement of a wave as you do this exercise.
- Exhale slowly through pursed lips, creating a whooshing sound.
- Continue for up to 5 minutes.
*Note: Practice this exercise slowly at first to avoid feeling dizzy or light-headed.
Alternate Nostril Yogic Breathing
This breathing technique is excellent for meditation and relaxation purposes.
- Sit upright in a comfortable position.
- Use your right thumb to close your right nostril.
- Inhale deeply through the left nostril. Hold for a few seconds while closing the left nostril and opening the right nostril.
- Exhale slowly through the right nostril.
- Inhale through the right nostril and repeat the process, alternating breathing through each nostril.
- Continue for 3-5 minutes.
Yogic Breathing While Walking to Increase Mindfulness
- Take slow, deep breaths as you walk, focusing your attention on extending your inhalations and exhalations as much as you can.
- Aim to take at least 10 steps per inhalation and exhalation.
Notice how your senses become more in tune with your body as you practice this active form of yogic breathing.
Healthwise Staff. “Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation.” Healthlink BC, www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/uz2255.
Kim, Bong-Young et al. “A Study on Reducing Stress through Deep Breathing.” International Journal of Applied Engineering Research, vol. 13, no. 2, 2018, pp. 1460-1464, www.ripublication.com/ijaer18/ijaerv13n2_86.pdf.
Griffin, Morgan. “10 Health Problems Related to Stress That You Can Fix.” WebMD, www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/10-fixable-stress-related-health-problems.
“9 Yogic Breathing Practices for Mind-Body Balance and Healing.” Himalayan Yoga Institute, 16 Oct. 2021, www.himalayanyogainstitute.com/9-yogic-breathing-practices-mind-body-balance-healing.