A Breathing Expert On How Short Inhales Can Help Panic Attacks



Many breathwork experts advocate slow, intentional breathing—this engages the diaphragm, increases oxygen in your lungs, and stimulates the vagus nerve. So when Bentley tells you to take in quick, shallow inhales, it’s understandable you may raise a brow. 

But here’s how it works: The theory is that when you control your shortness of breath (rather than succumbing to the feeling entirely), your body registers that you’re doing it intentionally, so you can stop at any time. “Doing it intentionally and in a relaxed manner and setting can actually help open up the lungs,” Bentley adds. “So that when one does try to breathe in fully, it actually relieves that feeling.” It’s like your body knows you’re in control of those shallow breaths, rather than falling victim to the anxiety.

So the next time you feel the anxiety crawling at your throat, try Bentley’s technique: When you breathe, stop about three quarters of the way into your inhale; essentially, you’re preventing your full breaths. Repeat for around five to 10, or even 20 breaths. Make no mistake: “It can feel uncomfortable,” Bentley notes. It’s not an instantly gratifying process, but neither is a panic attack, right? And the next time you take a full inhale, your lungs may welcome all the oxygen.

We should note that the research is limited, but it seems like this technique has a similar effect to the “bellows breath” in yoga, which is often used to clarify the mind. Plus, Bentley has her own anecdotal evidence: “It’s kind of counter-intuitive, but I’ve tried it myself,” she adds. “If you’re feeling anxious and you’re like, ‘I can’t breathe well,’ intentionally preventing full inhales for a series of inhales can actually help relieve that feeling.”

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