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Mindfulness help for service members

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Learn about some of the benefits of learning mindfulness meditation and becoming more mindful.

Mindfulness meditation can help service members learn to focus on the present, heal from injury, and/or improve their performance. It’s a popular technique in which you clear your mind of clutter and simply notice thoughts, sensations, emotions, or distractions by focusing attention on a specific target such as breathing. During this process, you consistently (and gently) guide your attention back to a present moment and focus on your target, with an attitude of acceptance and non-judgment. This attitude extends into treating yourself with compassion, rather than judgment. “Mindfulness meditation” and “mindfulness” are often used interchangeably, but mindfulness meditation refers to a technique, whereas mindfulness refers to any process of bringing mindful awareness into daily life. Practicing mindfulness meditation regularly can help you become more mindful in general. Read more...

Heart-healthy breathing blows stress away

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It’s American Heart Month! Take care of your heart by developing healthy breathing techniques to reduce stress, improve physical and mental health, and strengthen resilience.

Stress can take its toll on your mental and physical health, including your heart health, but there are breathing techniques to buffer yourself from it! When you’re less focused on your breathing, it’s typical to breathe erratically—especially when you face the stressors of day-to-day life. In turn, your heart rate can become less rhythmic, causing your heart to not function as well.

But when you have longer, slower exhales—breathing at about 4-second-inhale and 6-second-exhale paces—your heart rate rhythmically fluctuates up and down. This rhythmic variability in heart rate mirrors your inhales and exhales so that you have maximum heart rate at the end of the inhale and minimum heart rate at the end of the exhale. More importantly, this physiological shift could help you feel less stressed, anxious, or depressed—and experience better heart health.

It’s easy to go through the motions of breathing while absorbed in your own thoughts; instead, take notice of your breathing and other body sensations. Regularly tuning in to your body sensations could help you feel more resilient and ready to:

  • Adapt to change
  • Deal with whatever comes your way
  • See the brighter, or funnier, side of problems
  • Overcome stress
  • Tolerate unpleasant feelings
  • Bounce back after illnesses, failures, or other hardships
  • Achieve goals despite obstacles
  • Stay focused under pressure
  • Feel stronger

Check out HPRC’s Mind-Body Apps, Tools, and Videos for paced breathing MP3s and additional mind-body exercises. Start training your breathing and becoming more mindful today!

Breathe better, run better!

Learn how to improve your breathing technique while running.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to how to breathe when you’re running, but there are a couple points to consider. During light to moderate exercise, people tend to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Breathing through your nose helps minimize the number of allergens that get into your airway, warm the air before it gets to your lungs (which can be helpful in cold temperatures), and increase the concentration of oxygen in your blood. However, as exercise intensity increases, most people switch to breathing through the mouth because they can inhale more air per breath with less resistance.

Running experts suggest practicing diaphragmatic breathing (“belly breathing”) rather than shallower chest breathing (where you raise your chest and shoulders when you inhale). In the former, your diaphragm (an important muscle in the breathing process) is pushed downward when you inhale, creating space in your chest cavity. You should feel your belly expand as you inhale. It promotes greater expansion of your rib cage and lungs, giving you a fuller, deeper breath. It takes a little practice to learn how to breathe like this while you’re running, but if you lie on your back and breathe, practice yoga, or even play a wind instrument, you’ll know what it feels and looks like.

Finally, remember not to slouch when you run. Lift your torso and chest and lean forward slightly. Form also can affect how you breathe.

Switch up your heart rate a bit: Heart Rate Variability 101

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Your heart rate is (hopefully!) not steady; it should vary. The more it does so—rhythmically—the better for health and performance. And you have the power to influence it.

“Heart rate variability,” a way to track how your heart rate rhythmically goes up and down, helps you objectively assess your mind-body optimization. When your heart rate varies more, it’s good for your health and performance. Breathing at certain paces has a big impact on heart rate variability and—in turn—the mind-body connection and performance. And because you can learn to control your breathing, you can also improve your HRV. For more information about HRV and breathing to increase your HRV, read HPRC’s “Vary Your Heart Rate to Perform Your Best.”

Deep Breathing Instruction Card

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Learn how to use deep breathing for relaxation through HPRC’s downloadable instruction card.

You may have heard how deep breathing can help you relax and focus, but have you tried it yet? It’s a great strategy for helping your mind and body relax, but maybe you don’t know how to do it. You can learn how—and keep reminders handy—with this downloadable card that HPRC created recently for the Strong B.A.N.D.S. campaign. Try it out.

Meditation strategies to manage pain

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Tap the power of your mind—manage pain through the practice of meditation.

Pain is a sensation of both the body and the mind—and it’s within your power to use strategies such as meditation to control the mental aspect to decrease the physical sensation of pain. Meditation can teach you to have a focused, calm mind, and rhythmic breathing. It may sound easy, but it requires practice. The payoffs can be improved well-being, reduced pain, and relaxation. Want to know more? Check out HPRC’s new Pain Management section, where you can find strategies such as meditation that you can use on your own or with the help of a healthcare provider.

Take a deep breath and relax

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All the added stresses of military life can leave your body’s muscles tight and sore. Deep breathing exercises can help release that excess physical tension.

Have you breathed deeply lately? Breathing’s not something we usually have to think about, so we tend to take it for granted. But our breath can be a powerful tool for relaxation and stress relief. Taking time every day to focus on deliberate breathing—that is, breathing deeply and with control—can allow your body’s relaxation response to kick in and help you de-stress.

Slow-paced and deep-breathing exercises have been widely studied for their relaxing effects on the body’s stress response system. There are several types of deep-breathing exercises you can perform, but one of the easiest and most common is just called “deep breathing” (or “diaphragmatic breathing”). HPRC has a video on Breathing Exercises for Optimized Performance that introduces three breathing strategies for human performance optimization: “Deep Breathing,” “Alternate Nostril Breathing,” and “Fast-Paced Breathing.” A longer version is available for you to practice along with the instructor, or you can download a Performance Strategies transcript that takes you through these breathing exercises step-by-step to achieve relaxation.

For more ideas on relaxation strategies, check out the Stress Management resources in HPRC’s Mind Body domain.

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