Breathing exercises may benefit to everyone. In case of chronic fatigue, they are even more recommended because they can help relax and restore better breathing habits. I even read some testimonials from people who use them to relieve their pain or headaches (thanks Tom for your feeback!).
It is much more comfortable and efficient to do the breathing exercises on an empty stomach (one drink is fine). Sit on a chair or cross-legged, and make sure to keep your back straight.
In order for these exercises to have a real impact (i.e. to influence your unconscious breathing), you have to practice them at least one hour per day. There is no maximum limit: the more the better.
An hour a day may seem like a big deal for many people, but you’ll have to get involved and stick to it if you want to experience actual improvements. It’s ok to practice less though, but you may expect fewer results.
Be careful, however, not to confuse commitment and haste. Do not push too far in reducing or retaining your breathing: you must be relaxed and your heart should not accelerate. Otherwise, you might be doing something wrong. Listen to your body (again and again). No breath should be sudden, it’s all about relaxation (even when you hold your breath).
Exercise 1: Breathe / Meditate
Just do a meditative session. Pay attention to your breath without trying to slow it down. Make sure you breathe properly: through the nose, with the diaphragm, in a calm and relaxed way. Do not make any effort: just enjoy this moment of relaxation. The breathing pace should slow down by itself, you don’t have anything to do. You can also pay attention to your heartbeat. Just notice everything that is happening inside your body.
Exercise 2: breathe less
Start like the previous exercise, but this time, try very gradually to reduce the speed and/or the amplitude of the breaths. The goal here is to feel a slight air shortage, as if you were walking fast. This slight lack of air must be easily tolerable.
Exercise 3: Hold your breath
Note: holding your breath does not imply breathing more deeply afterwards in order to compensate for the air shortage. If you want to try and add holds in your breathing exercises, the golden rule is that your breathing must remain calm after air retention. So, no fast and deep inspiration: it’s all about control.
You can do for example:
- Inspiration 3 seconds
- Expiration 3 seconds
- Pause 3 seconds
You may want to play with these settings to see what works for you. It is not even necessary to count at all. Once again, you must feel a slight lack of air. You can also take much longer holds, but therefore less often.
One of the tips from the Buteyko method is to pinch the nose during holds, and gently shake the head up and down, or right to left. This helps to distract the mind and keep the pause a little longer. Do not forget to resist the urge to take fast breath in. Keep control!
Exercise 4: alternate nostrils
- Exhale slowly through one nostril and inhale slowly through the same nostril
- Then do the same thing with the other one
- And so on
Your breathing must be very slow and deep.
Exercise 5: 4-7-8
Deep breathing triggers a calming effect, provided you do it slowly in order to avoid hyperventilating.
- Inhale deeply for 4 seconds
- Hold for 7
- Exhale for 8
Do a minimum of 4 repetitions: relaxation is guaranteed. This exercise is particularly effective before going to bed because it helps falling asleep (other than that, it also helps against stress).
Exercise n: make up your own
Have fun! Practice the exercises you prefer, and make up new ones. This is the best way to keep practicing in the long run.
For example, you can walk while breathing with only one nostril. Or you can do a series of push up without breathing (or any other anaerobic exercise), and then try to restore a quiet breath. Or do your breathing exercises in a different position than usual, or at a different temperature. Instead of counting the seconds, you can also count the heart beats: connecting the heart and the breath can have a very powerful effect (search for “cardiac coherence” if you want to know more). Keep exploring and see what works for you.
The expiration causes relaxation
It is scientific1: the expiration slows the heartbeat, and the inspiration accelerates it. So, breathing out promotes relaxation. You can use it by making the expirations longer than the inspirations. Do not take it for granted: make sure you notice this relaxing effect.
Also, after holding my breath, I begin to exhale before inhaling (even when the lungs are almost empty): the calming effects helps me preventing any big breath.
Blow your belly to relax the diaphragm
After holding my breath, when I feel that the need for air is too strong, I inflate my belly to the maximum (without letting the air in), which triggers the relaxation of the diaphragm, with a feeling of releasing tensions. This helps me resuming with a calm breathing pattern.
Bonus: clearing the nose
When your nose is stuffed, you can try what is called the Buteyko maximum pause. This allows you to measure how long you can hold with empty lungs (maximum), but it also helps to clear the nose efficiently! And I verified it!
- Inhale normally (3s)
- Exhale normally (2 / 3s)
- Hold your breath as long as possible! (without dying)
If you already know the Buteyko Control Pause, it is the same procedure except you hold it as long as possible.
We are not clones
Most of us probably breathe too much. These exercises are therefore trying to reduce our respiratory rate. But maybe that’s not your case! I invite you to also try the opposite: hyperventilate for a few minutes: keep a sustained breath for a minute or two. See how it affects you. Compare with the effects of low-ventilation. Be curious. See what works for you, and adapt the exercises to yourself.
Be careful, however, not to misread the effects of the very short term hyperventilation! If you take 10 or 20 very deep and fast breaths, your body will try to tell you to stop: it will make you calm and make you want to breathe slowly ( besides, do not hesitate to incorporate this trick into your exercises! ). You should not deduct that deep and fast breaths are beneficial over a longer period! In the same way, if you push too hard into shallow breathing, your body will get stressed and try to trigger deep breaths. You should not conclude that shallow breathing causes stress!
Experiment and judge for yourself, this is the only way!
So, what is your favorite breathing exercise? Leave a message in the comments!