How to breathe

1. Breath through your nose

There are huge benefits to be gained simply from breathing through your nose. First and foremost, it slows down your breathing. That's because the inhale has greater resistance so you just can't take in your breath as quickly as you could through the mouth. And that's a really good thing because it promotes activity of the body's parasympathetic nervous system. This is the biological system designed to calm you down after a period of stress. So, the slow breathing fostered by using your nose has a calming, anti-stress, anti-anxiety effect.

But if that hasn't convinced you, here are some more reasons why your nose is more awesome than you realised:

  • It warms, humidifies and cleans the air, preparing it for the lungs

  • It regulates the direction and speed of the air stream to maximise exposure to a network of fine arteries, veins, lymphatics, and nerves

  • It boosts the inhalation of nitric oxide which increases your ability to transport oxygen throughout the body

  • It traps large particles with the nose hairs and small particles via mucous membrane

  • It helps prevent colds, flu, allergic reaction, hay fever, and irritable coughing

  • It helps to ensure the correct position of the tongue (against the upper palate) and lips (together), making correct formation of the natural dental arches and straight teeth more likely

  • It reduces the likelihood of snoring and apnoea (sleep disturbance)

2. Breath with your diaphragm

Press your thumbs gently into your abdomen just below your rib cage. As you breathe in, you should feel your thumbs being pushes outwards. Then, as you breathe out, you should feel them moving back inwards. That's your diaphragm pushing against your thumbs. And that's the source of good, calm, confident breathing.

Another way of feeling the power of the diaphragm is to put your hands on your side ribs so your elbows are sticking out. As you inhale, make your ribs go out to the side. Then relax and let your ribs move back to where they were at rest.

This is all about breathing to expand outwards (not upwards). If, when you inhale, you're lifting up your shoulders and tensing your neck, you're probably not breathing with your diaphragm, you're breathing with your chest. The problem with that is that it is faster, shorter and shallower, which is exactly the kind of breathing associated with stress and, ultimately, panic. To check that you're not breathing like this, place one hand on your chest and one on your tummy. As you breathe, you should feel the tummy-hand moving up and down while the chest hand remains still.

Tactical breathing

Now you know how to breathe, you can take control of it by using different breathing patterns for different experiences.

Combat breathing - a very simple technique used by the police and military to regain or keep control in a highly stressful situation

  • Exhale fully and count to 4

  • Inhale through your nose for a count of 4

  • Hold the air in your lungs for a count of 4. Do not clamp down and create pressure, just maintain an expansive, open feeling even though you are not inhaling

  • Exhale and repeat

4,7,8 breathing - for deep relaxation, for sleep, and for response to unwanted craving

  • The 4,7 and 8 are not seconds but steady counts. It's the pattern of each breath rather than how long you breathe in / out for

  • Inhale through your nose for 4, hold for 7, exhale from your mouth for 8

Coffee breathing - to inject energy by activating the body's fight or flight system

Like a strong coffee, this should use it very sparingly. 3 rounds of 20 at about 3pm is useful as this is when your cortisol levels drop which can leave you feeling drowsy. Coffee breathing, rather than actual coffee, is a natural way to re-set your body back into alertness.

  • Focus on the exhale only - allow the inhale to happen automatically

  • Exhale through your your nose 20 times in sharp, shooting breaths, like a sneeze, or like you're trying to shift something out of your nostrils in sharp bursts

  • Try not to move your face, shoulder or chest - the bursts of breath should come from your lower abdomen

Power breathing - developed by Wim Hof, this induces a short-term stress response which ultimately can lead to more resilience towards everyday stress.

[Don't do this breathing exercise in a swimming pool, before going underwater, beneath the shower or piloting any vehicle. Always practice in a safe environment - best lying down or sitting comfortably. And don't force it - build up gradually keeping well within your own comfort zone and limits]

One Round includes:

  • Breathe in fully with both your diaphragm and your chest

  • Let go of the breath - don't force the air out fully, just let the breath go till you are relaxed

  • Do that about 30 times

  • Then hold your breath for as long as is comfortable (usually something from 1-2 minutes or so)

  • Take a breath in and hold it for about 10 seconds

  • Breathe out

Do 3-4 rounds. Best done on an empty stomach, such as first thing in the morning.