How to Use Breathing to Push Through a Challenge

on March 18, 2020 • Grace

No matter what challenge you are facing, you’re going to have to do some sort of breathing to get through it. 

However, if you aren’t breathing the right way, you may actually be holding yourself back. Proper deep breathing helps your body adapt to future challenges, big and small, resulting in better outcomes. 

Luckily, this type of breathing is a skill that can be learned. Here’s what you need to know about using breathing to push through a challenge. 

The Benefits of Conscious and Deep Breathing

Let’s start with the benefits of deep breathing during challenges. 

As an integral part of practices such as yoga and meditation, deep breathing is often associated with relaxation. This is an important benefit when you are facing a challenge because it helps you stay focused on the task at hand, rather than running off with anxious thoughts and worries. Additionally, as clinical psychologist Juli Fraga says, “It can help intense sensations, experiences and emotions feel less threatening.”

However, the benefits of deep breathing go beyond relaxation and mindfulness. Conscious breathing has been found to:

  • Reduce blood pressure 
  • Improve cardiovascular health 
  • Improve immunity and digestion
  • Decreases stress and anxiety
  • Increases energy levels and stamina

This is because deep breathing balances your autonomic nervous system, which in turn regulates your involuntary bodily functions. 

When it comes to exercise, these benefits are crucial to your success. During physical challenges, deep breathing helps you:

  • Build a more efficient and steady pace
  • Reduce risk of injury
  • Maintain muscular endurance
  • Recover from high-intensity workouts quicker 

Use Your Diaphragm and Breathe Through Your Belly

Now that you know how great deep breathing is, let’s get into exactly how you do it. 

First you have to unlearn how you are breathing now. When we are babies, we automatically breathe the correct way. However, as we get older, we get into the bad habit of chest breathing. This type of breathing is more shallow, restricting the amount of oxygen you are bringing into your body. Chest breathing has also been linked to higher levels of stress and higher risk of illness and fatigue. 

When you breathe deeply, you should not be using any chest muscles — you should be using your diaphragm. This deep breathing muscle helps you expand your lungs to bring in oxygen, promoting all those great health and relaxation benefits. 

As you breathe through your diaphragm, your stomach should expand and contract with each breath. Because this is not how most of us breathe normally, it can be hard to get used to. In order to put it to you use as you face your challenge, practice this technique every day:

  • Close your eyes and focus on your body and your breath. 
  • Inhale deeply through your nose until your abdomen fills will air and expands. 
  • Relax and exhale through your nose. 
  • Place one hand on your abdomen, below your belly button, and the other hand on your upper chest. 
  • Take a deep breath through your nose. As you breathe, shift your breath so that you feel the rise and fall of your stomach rather than your chest. 
  • Take three more slow and deep breaths until you feel fully relaxed. 

Slowly, this type of deep breathing will start to feel more natural as your body adapts to this new way of taking in oxygen. 

Here are some tips to help with your diaphragmatic deep breathing:

  • Maintain a good posture. Stand up straight, relax, open your chest and lift your chin. 
  • Keep a rhythm. Count your breaths in and out, or listen to music that aligns with your breathing. 
  • Don’t hold your breath as your exercise. Instead, adjust the speed of your breathing to match your exercise pace. 
  • Consider adding yoga to your workout routine in order to learn more mindful deep breathing techniques. 

Try These Exercises

If you’re facing a challenge, chances are you are doing a bit of training beforehand. Here are some exercises to help you get your breathing game-day ready:

1. Strengthen your diaphragm:

  • Lay on your back and place a book on your stomach. 
  • Take a deep breath through your diaphragm. You should see the book rise into your peripheral vision as you inhale, and then drop back down as you exhale. 
  • Continue breathing this way, slowly adding heavier books to your stomach. 

2. Keep your mind focused and your heart rate low:

  • Inhale and count to four. 
  • Hold your breath and count to four. 
  • Exhale and count to four. 
  • Hold and count to four. 

3. Increase your energy levels:

  • Breathe in and out normally three times. 
  • On your fourth inhale, press your thumb to one nostril to close it and exhale through your open nostril. 
  • Inhale through your open nostril, then release your thumb and press your index finger to your other nostril to close it. Exhale through the open nostril. 
  • Continue swapping open and closed nostrils this way for another eight rounds. 

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