Dieting is hard, and forcing yourself to go to the gym at the end of a grueling workday when all you want to do is plant yourself in front of the television with a bowl of popcorn for the night can be ever harder. But there’s something else you can be doing for your health that is free, requires no extra equipment, and can be done almost anywhere: breathing.
Now, of course, we’re already breathing, like, all the time, you might be thinking. But here’s the trick: it’s not just about the act of breathing in general, but rather, how you’re actually doing it. Chronic stress is one of the biggest health threats of modern life (no, your cortisol levels aren’t actually meant to be constantly sky-high), and deep breathing can actually lower that stress significantly and quickly.
Visualizing your breath has been used by health professionals, therapists, and yoga instructors galore for years to help patients reduce stress and increase mindfulness. Meditation aids like the Apple Watch, Headspace, and Calm all use visual guides to help users slow down, focus, and send their breath into the far-reaching corners of their bodies. Scientific studies on “sending your breath” aren’t exactly abounding, but even the placebo effect can still have very real, very strong effects.
Many visual guides use expanding and collapsing shapes to encourage the watcher to breathe in long and deep, ensuring the maximum positive effects from the exercise. Other exercises use color to help a person imagine the negative parts of their lives being drained out with each exhale. Certain Buddhist traditions believe in an exact pathway of the breath that connects the brain and heart to the rest of the body, showing how practiced breathing helps to secure a healthy bodily flow.
So, next time you’re really feeling the stress of life closing in, take a minute to breathe, and maybe add in some visuals. Here are a few helpful videos to get you started.