Depression and Anxiety: Why Slow Breathing Helps


Many people with depression also experience anxiety, and one of the best ways to reduce anxiety is to breathe slowly.

Breathing is a primary focus in most types of meditative practices because it is vital to our well-being. Only 20 percent of the energy we use for our activities comes from sunlight and food. The rest of our energy, a whopping 80 percent, we acquire by breathing.

Why Slower Is Better

Breathing slowly and deeply stimulates the human nervous system, and this stimulation helps our nerves remain calm. When our nervous system is calm and oxygenated it can efficiently relay important messages from one area of the body to another, coordinating our body’s multitudinous activities.

When people breathe 15 times a minute, just 60 percent of the air in their lungs is exchanged or changed with each breath. When we slow the pace of our breathing down, all the air we inhale can be changed—a full fresh supply with each breath to energize the body.

The average individual breathes 15 to 20 times every minute; by bringing the rate down to 10 or 12 breaths per 60 seconds, the body will be better oxygenated and more relaxed. Blood pressure and stress hormone levels may drop.

Easy Calm Breathing Exercise

We can practice slowing our rate of breathing using simple exercises.

This exercise has three steps:

  1. Smile gently.
  2. While smiling, breathe through your nose in a relaxed and slow manner. As you inhale, the belly should swell. As you exhale, the belly relaxes and flattens.
  3. Continue with step #2.

To make this exercise even more effective, visualize (picture in your mind) something lovely, loving, or awe inspiring as you breathe.

Smiling while doing this exercise serves an important purpose. Wearing a smile tells the body to produce and release endorphins—hormones that cause us to feel good. Our body’s tissues and organs relax in the presence of endorphins, and relaxation allows cells to absorb more oxygen. More oxygen means increased energy and tranquil nerves.

Source: Master Chunyi Lin, Spring Forest Qigong, Learning Strategies, Corp., 2000.
Photo credit: David Sadler (@flickr)


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