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Inhale, Exhale: The Wonderful World of Taking a Breath

The Sleep Club Editors

Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale — easy, right? We come into the world doing it, and live everyday without really thinking about it until… Well, it is compromised in some way or we focus on it to calm ourselves down. Breathing… we all do it, we all need it to survive and it’s one of the things that, when done mindfully, opens up a whole world of possibilities for our well-being beyond simply delivering life-giving oxygen.

Taking control of our breath is one of the healthiest, most self-aware things we can do for ourselves. It’s one of the magic bullets to wellness that is such a part of our day-to-day, we overlook it.


The power of the inhale/exhale

The way we breathe speaks a lot to how we’re dealing with or being affected by a situation. When we’re calm, the rise and fall of our tummy — we’ll get to the chest in a moment — is slow, measured, even. When we’re excited — good or bad — our chests take over, fast, choppy, shallow. Same with stressed, anxious, worried. Our hearts begin to race to keep up with it because air, oxygen, isn’t coming to us in a way we can use as well as we need. And, honestly? Too long of shallow breathing takes a physical toll on your body, not to mention your mind and emotions.

There’s this great yoga teacher I love watching named Rodney Yee. He has these awesome 15-minute sessions he does with Mariel Hemmingway that both kickstart my day and help me end on an awesome note. There’s this moment at the end of one of his classes that he tells you to breathe with a “soft belly, like a cat’s belly.” This means to breathe slow and low, from your diaphragm, letting it push your stomach out naturally on the “in” then gently retracting it on the “out.” It’s how babies do it. These deep, cleansing, beautiful breaths that keep their little hearts beating, their new blood flowing, and their young lives thriving.

As we get older, we forget how to do that. We hold in our stomachs, don’t we? Tightening it to look better. This, my dear friends, puts a lot of stress on our bodies. Holding your breath, keeping your stomach tight and only taking oxygen into your chest wears your body and your emotional well-being out. 


Beautiful little thing called “Mindful Breathing”

Just as your body retaliates when it doesn’t get enough sleep, hydration or exercise, so it does when it’s not getting the right kind of breath. Too long of this only-in-the-chest breathing can lower your white blood cell count, create panic attacks, and raise your heart-rate. Because you’re localizing it to the area between your shoulders, those muscles along with your neck are taking on a brunt of the burden to keep that oxygen flowing. This leads to all sorts of issues — shoulder, neck and back pain, headaches, and simply a big kick in your physical and emotional ass. BUT there is hope.

Mindful Breathing. It’s beautifully simple. Focus on your breathing, slow it down and allow it to fill you up. Think about how you are inhaling and exhaling, get in touch with when or if you are going shallow rather than deep, and be MINDFUL of the how.

There are a bunch of different techniques on how to train your breath to serve rather than hurt you, and we found four that we really like. Super easy, wonderfully cleansing and calming, and a great way to slow your breath, give yourself an always accessible tool for bringing your heart rate down when you need it, comfort your mind, quiet your emotions, and simply make you feel relaxed and at ease at all times. And these help you fall asleep as well. Just sayin’.


Box, square, four-square or 4 4 4 4 breathing

This is something you can do sitting at your desk to calm yourself down, focus your mind, or just at home to get in touch with your breath and relax.

  • Sit in whatever position is comfortable for you, even laying in your bed preparing for sleep.
  • Slowly inhale deeply into your stomach through your nose to the count of 4.
  • Hold at the top of the inhale for a count of 4.
  • Slowly exhale through your mouth, sending all of the air out of your stomach to the count of 4.
  • Hold at the bottom of the exhale for a count of 4.

Repeat for 2-3 minutes or as long as you like. This is easy to do anywhere and anytime you need it.


The 4-7-8

Again, you can do this wherever. The 4-7-8 technique not only helps you sleep, but calms you in stressful situations before you react. 

  • Place your tongue against the roof of your mouth, just behind your front teeth.
  • Blow all the air out of your stomach through your mouth with a whooshing sound.
  • Slowly inhale deeply into your stomach through your nose with a count of 4.
  • Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  • Exhale with a whooshing sound through your mouth for a count of 8.
  • This is one breath.

Do this breath three more times, stop for a few moments then start again if you need to. You can do this several times a day, but the recommendation is to start with just four breaths at a time to get the hang of it.


7/11 — open for breathing anytime

There’s a rhythmic quality we really like about this one. Use it not only when you’re stressed, but incorporate it into your daily life. Again, you can do this anywhere.

  • Release all of your breath.
  • Slowly inhale deeply into your stomach — through your mouth or your nose, whichever you prefer — to the count of 7.
  • Exhale, slowly and deeply, — if you inhale through your mouth, exhale through your nose and vice-versa — to the count of 11.
  • Repeat for 2-3 minutes

Belly breathing “like a cat’s belly”

A simple return to what’s natural. 

  • Lay back on the bed.
  • Place one hand on your stomach, one hand on your chest.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Deep breath in through your nose, slow, down into your tummy, feeling your hand rise with your stomach. Your chest should not move under your other hand.
  • Exhale through pursed lips — like a whistle — and feel your stomach naturally flatten out as the air leaves your body.
  • Repeat 3-10 times.

Let your tummy be your guide

The goal with all of these is to shift from shallow, chest breathing to focusing your breath deep into your belly. Use your diaphragm and visualize it filling you. That deep, mindful breathing settles your emotions, your heart, and your body; and relaxes and calms you. The more you do it, the more you’ll discover an ease, quiet, and peace overtaking you everyday. It will move from a tool you access when you’re stressed, tense, or overwhelmed to how you live your life — relaxed, easy, languid…

Like a cat laying in the sun —  no stress, no worries, just "Ahhh." 

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