Deep Breathing Exercises Explained

It can make a drastic difference during your cancer journey to take a few deep breaths every day. Practicing some deep breathing exercises for a few minutes each day is one of the simplest and most convenient ways to combat stress and anxiety. In addition, it helps to reduce pain, control blood pressure, and improve digestion.

This is a simple technique that can be done anywhere and requires not much energy. It is therefore the ideal stress relief when the side effects of treatment are hitting you hard. In response to stress, our brain releases cortisol, the stress hormone. When we deep breathe, our heart rate slows down, more oxygen enters the bloodstream, and our brain relaxes, which reduces cortisol. Furthermore, deep breathing reduces pain by releasing endorphins, a pleasure-related chemical.

 The Benefits of Deep Breathing 

Stimulates the Lymphatic System 
Breathing is in charge of 70% of cleansing the body of toxins (the other 30% is through bladder and bowels.) If you do not breathe fully, your body must work overtime to release these toxins.
Improves Immunity
When your blood is fully oxygenated, it carries and absorbs nutrients and vitamins more efficiently. The cleaner the blood, the harder it is for illnesses to stay.
Increases energy
The more oxygen that is in the blood, the better our body functions.
Lowers blood pressure
As your muscles relax, this allows your blood vessels to dilate, which improves circulation and lowers blood pressure. Deep breathing also slows and regulates the heart rate.
Improves digestion
The more you breathe deep, the more healthier blood flow you will produce, which in turn promotes your organs to function more effectively, including your intestines.
Helps support correct posture
In order to take a deep breath in, your lungs take up maximum space, your diaphragm pulls down, so in turn your torso straightens in order for this to be possible.

There are many breathing techniques, some might work better than others, so it is worth trying them all and seeing which works best for you. Below are my favourite breathing techniques that helped me throughout treatment and recovery. 

Start with the belly breathing exercise

It's best to start with belly breathing, if you have never done breathing exercises before. The other exercises are more advanced. A top tip for when doing these exercises is to picture your favourite place or memory. 

Deep Breathing Exercises

Belly Breathing 
  • Place one hand on your upper chest and the other hand on your belly, below the ribcage.
  • Allow your belly to relax, without forcing it inward by squeezing or clenching your muscles.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose. The air should move into your nose and downward so that you feel your stomach rise with your other hand and fall inward (toward your spine).
  • Exhale slowly through slightly pursed lips. Take note of the hand on your chest, which should remain relatively still.
4-7-8 Breathing  
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, to a count of eight.
  • Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Relaxed Breathing 
  • Make sure you are sitting or lying comfortably.
  • Close your eyes and breathe through your nose to the count of four.
  • Pause for a moment.
  • Breathe out to a count of four.
Roll Breathing 

You can do it in any position. But while you are learning, it is best to lie on your back with your knees bent.

  • Put your left hand on your belly and your right hand on your chest. 
  • Practice filling your lower lungs by breathing so that your "belly" (left) hand goes up when you inhale and your "chest" (right) hand remains still. Always breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth. Do this 8 to 10 times.
  • When you have filled and emptied your lower lungs 8 to 10 times, add the second step to your breathing: inhale first into your lower lungs as before, and then continue inhaling into your upper chest. Breathe slowly and regularly. As you do so, your right hand will rise and your left hand will fall a little as your belly falls.
  • As you exhale make a quiet, whooshing sound. Feel the tension leaving your body as you become more relaxed.
  • Practice breathing for 3 to 5 minutes. Notice that the movement of your belly and chest rises and falls like the motion of rolling waves.
  • Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.
Morning Breathing 
  • From a standing position, bend forward from the waist with your knees slightly bent, letting your arms dangle close to the floor.
  • As you inhale slowly and deeply, return to a standing position by rolling up slowly, lifting your head last.
  • Hold your breath for just a few seconds in this standing position.
  • Exhale slowly as you return to the original position, bending forward from the waist.
  • Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.

Practice any of these breathing techniques daily for several weeks until you can do it almost anywhere. You can use it as an instant relaxation tool anytime you need one!

For help and tips on how to relax read - 'Using Guided Imagery to Relax' 


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