Practicing breathing exercises in pregnancy is a great way to reduce tension and relieve stress. These exercises can be helpful for handling any stress and tension that comes up in pregnancy, but also, they can be useful in early labour, in postpartum, in parenting…really, just in life in general! Read below for how it works and what breathing exercises you can do!
I know, I know.
Why am I talking about breathing? We all know how to breathe – we do it every day!
The way you breathe affects your whole body. Think about when you’re stressed out. How do you breathe? Likely shallowly and quickly, right? I know when I’m feeling particularly anxious, my breathing becomes rapid and shallow. I have to consciously think about ssssllllooowwwwiiiinnnngggg down my breath so that I can kick the anxiety. And I do that by doing breathing exercises.
Breathing exercises are a good way to relax, reduce tension, and relieve stress. They’re easy to learn! You can do them whenever you want, and you don’t need any special tools or equipment to do them. I do them driving, in the grocery store, in the middle of a frustrating moment with my kids, or when on the phone with the student loan repayment center. When you have practiced them in the easy and calm moments, it’s much easier to do it in a stressful moment.
How can something as simple as breathing reduce tension and relieve stress in pregnancy?
It’s science – yes, actually!
So, our bodies are incredible (as if you didn’t know this already). Amongst other things, the autonomic nervous system controls your breathing, your heart rate, birth, and digestion. But unlike digestion, you can consciously control your breath. In fact, breathing is the only function controlled by the autonomic nervous system that we can consciously access.
Okay, so how does this reduce stress?
When you breathe in, your heart rate increases. When you breathe out, your heart rate decreases slightly. Usually, it’s a balance where your heart rate stays static. However, when you’re feeling stressed and tense, your breathing is shallow and rapid, and your heart rate increases. In the same vein, by slowing down your breathing, you can decrease your heart rate. The key is ensuring your exhale is longer than your inhale. Over a few minutes of this focused breathing, your heart rate will have noticeably decreased, and you will no longer feel that panic that comes with rapid breathing. It’s like a built-in stress reliever!
Here’s the problem, though. When we are afraid/tense/stressed, it can be very hard to remember how to do this. It takes practice for our bodies (and brains) to remember these skills in those difficult moments. So, implementing some breathing exercises into your daily life in calmer moments can make it easier to access these skills in stressful moments.
There are quite a few different breathing exercises that you can use to help you access that built-in stress reliever. Give them all a try and use the one that you like best. (Hot parenting tip – I have used most of these with my kids successfully when they’re emotionally unregulated.)
First Things First: Belly Breathing
Before you can practice breathing exercises, it’s important to make sure you’re breathing “properly.” Most adults breathe short, shallow breaths rather than deeply into their bellies. Look at a baby or young child, and you’ll see how their bellies rise and fall, and compare it to your own when you breathe. To get full benefits of breathing as a stress reliever, it’s important to breathe deeply into your belly. We need to belly breathe!
One other thing, how many of you are half holding your breath because your spending the day holding your belly in? Stop doing that! You need to fill that belly with air! Practice belly breathing now. Put one hand on your chest and one on your belly. Breathe in, long and slowly. You should feel the hand on your belly rise. Then, exhale slowly. Feel your hand on your belly fall. Repeat for about 10 breaths. Do you notice the diffference between how you usually breathe and belly breathing?
Okay, so you have belly breathing down. Now for the breathing exercises. I always recommend doing these daily for 5-10 minutes. My favourite time to practice them is laying in bed. Either in the morning or before I go to sleep at night. Either I have started the day with a calming exercise and I feel calmer to take on the day, or I’ve ended my day with one and I sleep better!
- 4/7 Breathing: This is a very simple technique that you can use no matter where you are when you need to bring your stress level down. Remember belly breathing? Okay, you’re going to do that. Do it a few times to start with. Then when you inhale, inhale for a count of 4. Then, when you exhale, exhale for a count of 7. Continue this pattern until you start to feel calmer.
- Breathe with a Focus: This breathing technique uses the benefits of visualization as well as breathing. Start with closing your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Now, inhale. As you do, imagine the air that you breathe in is filled with peace and calm. Then exhale and imagine that the air you breathe out is filled with all your stress and tension. Inhale, and this time in your mind say, “I breathe in peace and calm.” Exhale, and say in your mind, “I breathe out stress and tension.” Continue this pattern. When I’ve done this with my kids, I usually have them visualize the colours of the rainbow for each breath.
- Modified Lion’s Breath: As you do this one, imagine that you’re a lion. Sit comfortably. Inhale through your nose. Fill your belly with as much as possible. When you can’t breathe in more, open your mouth as wide as possible and breathe out with a “HA” sound. Repeat several times. Kids love this one, so if you have kids try it with them!
Give these exercises a try and see how simply focusing on our breath can make anxiety-provoking situations feel much less stressful.
Need more like this? Check out the upcoming Birth Mindset Weekend Workshop. We’ll go into how to use breathing to reduce stress in more detail, as well as many other ways to reduce stress and fear when it comes to pregnancy and birth. Investment is PAY WHAT YOU WISH (recommended amount is $40). Find out more here: www.facebook.com/events/644082133174269/
Love Sarah XOXO