Hail to Your Exhale
Did you know that your exhale breath is like an amazing trusted friend that you can count on at any time to help you quickly relieve your stress and anxiety so that you can feel calm and grounded whenever you need to? It is pretty amazing!
So first let’s start with just a little physiology of respiration or breath: focusing here on 2 important concepts of your breath: these are #1= the components of your breath and #2= the length of your breath.
Concept #1 = Components of your breath
Your breath is divided into 2 main components: your inhale (breathing in) and your exhale (breathing out) & this just happens automatically all day and night…you don’t really ever think about it….you aren’t telling your body to breathe…your body just breathes itself thanks to your autonomic nervous system or what I like to call your “automatic” nervous system (sounds kinda like autonomic, right?) since it is responsible for lots of the things that happen automatically in your body and I always found this to be an easy way to remember it. If I were to rename it…I would just call it automatic. Your autonomic or automatic nervous system is further divided into 2 parts: sympathetic (stress response) and parasympathetic (relaxation response).
Concept #2 = Length of your breath
This is important from a physiological standpoint because when you inhale, your heart rate goes up and that is stimulating and associated with your stress response or the sympathetic portion of your autonomic nervous system. When you exhale, your heart rate goes down and that is associated with your relaxation response or the parasympathetic portion of your autonomic nervous system.
So think about this: When someone says to you “just take a deep breath…”….it doesn’t really work, right? And why? Well think about it, you take a deep breath and breathe in…and all of your inhale breath is now hanging out up in your puffed out chest…and your heart rate is going up because that is what happens when you inhale which does what?…it’s stimulating and just makes you feel more anxious and stressed!
So now think about this: remember I said that your exhale is like an amazing trusted friend? Instead of saying “just take a deep breath”…what someone should be saying to you is “just lengthen your exhale as long as possible”….because when you do that, you turn on your relaxation response, your heart rate decreases, and you feel calmer.
So if I said that you breathe automatically, you may be thinking, “how can I then choose how I want to breathe?” This is how: your diaphragm is the large muscle that separates out your thorax(chest) and your abdomen (belly) and you can think of it as a “double agent”—it is a pretty cool muscle as it has both involuntary muscle fibers that the autonomic nervous system uses to automatically breathe…and voluntary muscle fibers that you can use to “take the wheel” and get into the driver’s seat and redirect your breath!
So when you voluntarily get into the driver’s seat and lengthen your exhale breath, you feel calmer! The longer your exhale the better—not with force but just with invitation…you just allow it to be longer because if you try to hold it in too much and force it to be longer, well, that can cause even more stress which is going against what you are trying to achieve
You may be now thinking—how do I do that? I want to learn! Good! I hope you are thinking that! So here is a really easy way to do it: Do you know the shape your mouth makes when you are drinking through a straw? just purse your lips and make that shape for a sec…it is the same shape you also make when you are whistling (but since I can’t really whistle too well, the straw analogy works better for me and most of my clients of all ages haha)…. so you have that shape and you know what that feels like and you can relax your mouth now and just listen to this part as I explain how to use that straw shape while breathing and then you can give it a try
So to practice this breath, you 1st would breath in through your nose and then when you exhale, you would make the shape that you just did with your mouth as if you have an imaginary straw and instead of drinking in….you softly blow the air through the imaginary straw (Iike if you are making bubbles in your drink haha…)….and really softly at the rate that you are making a candle on your bday cake flicker but you don’t blow it out…
Now your exhale will naturally be longer than your inhale simply by the physics involved: you are breathing out through a much smaller hole that you are making with your mouth which takes longer than breathing in through 2 larger holes (your nostrils).
So you are ready! Let’s give it a sample try! Comfortably breath in through your nose…and when you are ready to exhale, make the “straw” shape with your mouth and slowly breathe out as if you are making that candle flicker but not blowing it out….you can also soften or close your eyes too if it is comfortable to do so…if you aren’t sure how long your breath is you can count: how long it takes to breathe in….how long it takes to breathe out….allowing your exhale breath to be as long as comfortably possible for you. Take a few rounds and notice how you feel! You can use this tool sitting, standing, lying down….however and whenever you need to!
I hope you enjoyed learning how you can Hail to Your Exhale! You can call on your trusted friend, your exhale breath, whenever you need to feel calmer, grounded, and gain back control amidst whatever chaos is happening in your life! It works for me works for so many of my clients and I hope you find it helpful too!