Covid-19: Are you breathing right for these stressful times?
Call it stress, anxiety, the fear of imminent doom. That mild tightness in your chest that wasn’t such a constant before March, can be a precursor to lifestyle diseases. An oft-overlooked way to ease it is by breathing right. Here are a few techniques to try:
The 4 7 8
This involves inhaling deeply through the nose for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 7 seconds and exhaling through your nose for 8 seconds. Repeat 5 to 10 times to help steady the nervous system and clear the mind. Can also boost concentration. Health coach and sports nutritionist Bipasha Das also recommends the 7/11 technique. “Aim your breath deep into your stomach. It might help if you hold your hands on your stomach, so you can feel it swelling up as you breathe in. Allow your lungs to empty, then breathe deeply into your stomach while counting to 7. Once you reach 7, breathe out gently to the count of 11. Repeat for two to three minutes or until you feel calm and relaxed,” she says.
The Wim Hof Method
This technique is named after a Dutch extreme athlete noted for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures. He advocates cycles of controlled hyperventilation, extended exhalations and breath-holding, combined with exposure to cold, and meditation. The aim is to trigger positive immune system changes, with potential benefits it for the body and mind. Tread with caution, says Wim Hof, now 61. Get the basics right first. Just learn to breathe.
The Buteyko Method
In 1957, a Ukrainian doctor named Konstantin Buteyko observed that people battling anxiety and sleep disorders often breathed through the mouths, using the upper chest more predominantly, and with a respiratory rate and volume greater than normal. His method involves slow breathing and breath holds following an exhalation, the objective being to take less air into the lungs. This has been found to ease feelings of anxiety and stress. His method borrows from Eastern breathing techniques and is similar to some breathing exercises common in yoga.
This technique involves breathing at a fast rate for a few minutes at a time. Studies have shown holotropic breathwork combined with psychotherapy can significantly reduce anxiety. Music is an important part of this exercise as it creates an added layer of cognitive ease. (The reason music is so calming, incidentally, is that its regular patterns create cognitive ease, telling the mind that all is as it should be and it can relax). This method is advisable, however, only for the physically fit, under medical supervision. “Holotropic breathwork can benefit those who suffer from recurrent panic attacks and mild to moderate hypertension,” says Dr Vijay Surase, a cardiologist at Jupiter Hospital. “For those with severe symptomatic organic diseases, however, it can only be part of a treatment plan, and will not work without accompanying specialist intervention.”