Can breathing change your state of mind?
Hā ki roto! - Breathe in!
Hā ki waho! – Breathe out!
Kia tau te mauri e kokiri nei – Settle the mauri that sits within me.
Kei roto i te hā, ko te oranga o te tangata – For within the breath, is the life of people.
Breathing is something that we always have available to us, and, if we learn how to use it to our advantage, we are capable of changing our psychological state of mind in a matter of moments.
Breathing techniques have been used for hundreds if not thousands of years, particularly in the east in the Yogic traditions. Within the Māori culture, the hongi itself is the exchange and acknowledgement of the importance of breath.
Breathing techniques are tried, tested, and backed by evidence. Some of the organisations that use these practices include the NSW Fire Brigade, NZ Police, NZ Defence Force, and the All Blacks.
The techniques that follow are simple yet effective, try them for yourself. To maximise their effect, set an intention to become more relaxed on every outbreath, allow yourself to drop in deeper and deeper to the breath.
When you need an energy boost: The 4-4-4-4 breath
Box Breathing comes from the Navy SEALs and is also known as square breathing, or 4-4-4-4 breath. This breathwork technique slows the heart rate and deepens concentration. It heightens efficiency and performance, as well as provides stress relief. It's best to use in the morning to wake up, in the middle of the day if sleepy, or before a big project or meeting that requires your focus.
To practice this technique, start by releasing all the air from your chest, then take a breath in through the nose for 4 seconds then hold your breath for 4 seconds, then breathe out through the nose for 4 seconds, then hold your breath for 4 seconds. Repeat this cycle for 5 minutes to feel the effects. The breath intervals can be varied to suit your needs, i.e. 3, 4 or 5 seconds.
- Use this guided video on YouTube to practice this technique: Guided Box Breathing - 5 Minute Meditation (5-5-5-5)(external link)
When you feel yourself getting worked up: The 5-5 for 5min breath
While our natural tendency is to breathe at a rate of two or three seconds per breath, Coherent Breathing, or the 5-5 breath, is a controlled and conscious breathing practice that slows down our breathing to 5 seconds.
The 5-5 breath is ideal for an overall sense of calm and can be practiced throughout the day.
To start, focus on the natural rhythm of your breath to obtain a baseline length of each inhale and exhale (check in how you are feeling). Whilst focussing attention in the heart area extend your breath duration to inhale for 5 seconds, and exhale for 5 seconds, and continue for five minutes, all through the nose where possible.
- Use this guided video on YouTube to practice this technique: HRV Breathing Exercise (6 BPM) - 5 Seconds In, 5 Seconds Out (Resonance Frequency Breathing)(external link)
If you try these breathing exercises out, let us know what you think, or for more information, please contact Mike Townsend, Wellbeing Advisor.
- For those interested, check out the documentary series “Limitless” with Chris Hemsworth. The documentary explores the power of the breath in several settings including the NSW Fire brigade.
- Read this article on The Spinoff website: Tīhei mauriora: the history and tikanga of our breath(external link)
- Practice Hikitia Te Hā - a series of simple te ao Māori breathing exercises on the All Right? website(external link)
- Safety, Health and Wellbeing Initiatives