How To Raise Self-Esteem Through Deep Breathing

Your breathing reflects your confidence. Let’s take a deeper dive into the significance of oxygen and the power of deep breathing. This is an essential step in how to raise self-esteem.

Oxygen is one of the most crucial elements for survival because it creates energy in your cells. Even if your ability to take in oxygen is slightly compromised, you’ll find yourself in a state of rapid decline as normal bodily functions start shutting down including the following:

  • Energy levels start to dramatically decrease.
  • Muscles stop working properly and movement becomes difficult.
  • Your cells that normally take in nutrients and get rid of waste become compromised and back up.
  • Your nervous system starts to shut down, as it can’t communicate signals to your body without oxygen, which means you won’t be able to think clearly.

Multiple scientific studies have demonstrated that short and shallow breathing, created from fearful emotions, increases your heart rate and blood pressure.[i]  Effectively, short and shallow breathing activates your sympathetic nervous system (SNS), triggers your stress hormone cortisol and moves blood into your extremities, preparing you for fight or flight.  Not so good when you need to remain calm and confident. 

Our bodies adapted this functionality into our nervous system over millions of years of evolution to protect us from danger.  For instance, if we travel back to prehistoric days we find early humans who relied on the fight or flight mechanism in order to protect them from things like Sabertooth Tigers, Bears and some other tribe member who wanted a new wife. 

Yes, fear can be good if it triggers your SNS and allows you to get away from something, which is clearly threatening your life.  But times have obviously changed and unless you’re on a safari in the middle of Africa running from a rogue lion, you probably don’t need to be firing off your SNS a whole lot. 

Problem is, today’s bears and tigers are now perceived as traffic, deadlines, bills, drama on TV, relationship issues, money issues, and other circumstances, which fire off your SNS and bring consistent low to mid-level stress.

Unfortunately, without getting rid of this stress you end up paying rent on it.  Yeah, that’s right, rent! 

Basically, the stress of poor focus that you hold onto taxes your mind, body, and spirit until it eventually shows up as undesired rent in the form of:

  • The Flu
  • Heart disease
  • Inflammation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Breathing impairment
  • Memory and concentration impairment

While none of the above are things we look forward to, stress from chronic inflammation has now been proven to lead to life threatening diseases including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and depression.[ii]

And did you catch those last few? I don’t know about you but being overweight, out of breath and unable to concentrate doesn’t exactly sound like the ultimate high of unbreakable confidence. 

A good example of the SNS working against you is when you panic while holding your breath underwater.  Most experts agree that humans have the capacity to hold their breath for around 5 minutes with the current world record at 24 minutes held by professional free diver Aleix Segura Vendrell.

But let’s say you’re surfing and you get caught under a wave that won’t let you up for air.  After surfing for over 20 years I know from personal experience that when you panic, your SNS kicks in high gear and oxygen supplies run out much quicker, which means your chances of drowning and dying become very real.

This very scary scenario played out for me one summer while surfing at Playa Grande in Costa Rica.   The sun was just setting and a massive 18-foot rogue wave came in out of nowhere.  When I dove under the lip of the wave to avoid its massive impact, I clutched my head to avoid any potential reef beds and went into the automatic spin cycle as expected. 

When I started to run out of oxygen I began swimming to the surface, but instead of releasing its grip, the wave sucked me back down and I panicked.  By the time it let go of me I was literally a half a second away from blacking out. 

But when I reached the surface, gasped for air and things calmed down, I realized this whole episode could not have taken more than 15 seconds.  Had I simply remained calm, I could’ve held my breath for at least 60 seconds, which according to big wave surfer and Surfline team member Nick Carroll, would’ve outlasted “even the biggest 40-60 foot waves at Jaws in Hawaii which usually release their grip within 30-40 seconds.”

Indeed, this is a perfect analogy for life.  When the waves of challenge and conflict come your way and test your confidence, the tendency is to overreact, get scared and panic at which point your SNS fight or flight response takes over.  But if you simply “Breathe Deep” you can interrupt the fight or flight mechanism and trigger your Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS or PSNS).

Your PNS triggers bodily functions like rest and repair as well as a host of other benefits, like lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, strengthening your immune system, lowering your stress levels and directing more oxygen to your brain so you can think more clearly.[iii]  And all of this leads to our ultimate objective… calm and confident!

While for the most part, you should be breathing in and out of your nose, which will trigger your PNS, there can be times where breathing one really big exhale out your mouth can be of great benefit. 

Just think about the last time you were really stressed out.  Maybe you just escaped a dangerous accident like my surf example or barely made a payment deadline.  But once the situation resolves, you breathe a big sigh of relief and low and behold, a big chunk of that stress melts away.

Biologically speaking, breathing one really big inhale through your nose and exhaling out of your mouth will clear out most carbon dioxide from your body, which will function to interrupt any potentially disempowered thoughts from flooding your mind and making you freak out when challenges arise.  

Now once you clear out that first breath through your mouth it’s important to return to nasal breathing.  After teaching over 2,000 yoga classes I’ve come to an undeniable conclusion that the people who struggle the most are the people who breathe through their mouths. 

Unsurprisingly, this conclusion is backed by several scientific studies including a study published in Neuroreport in 2013, which stated:

“Individuals who habitually breathe through the mouth are more likely than nasal breathers to have sleep disorders and attention deficit hyperactive disorder”

According to the American Medical Student Association, all of the mechanisms that ensure a proper balance between the intake of oxygen and expulsion of carbon dioxide are in your nose.  Mouth breathing creates a different type of breathing pattern that upsets this balance by decreasing oxygen intake and releasing carbon dioxide too quickly, while nose breathing promotes a deeper, slower breathing pattern that increases oxygen intake. 

If you have trouble breathing through your nose I highly recommend watching the following video on my website:

If you’d like to learn more about gaining confidence and self-esteem check out the top-selling book Get High On Confidence Here.

[i] Natalia Herakova, Nnenna Harmony, Nzeribe Nwobodo, Ying Wang, Fei Chen and Dingchang Zheng. Effect of respiratory pattern on automated clinical blood pressure measurement: an observational study with normotensive subjects. Clinical Hypertension 2017 Jul 18. doi: 10.1186/s40885-017-0071-3 

[ii] Philip Hunter. The inflammation theory of disease. Science & Society. 2012 Nov; 13(11): 968–970. doi: 10.1038/embor.2012.142

[iii] Xiao Ma,1,2 Zi-Qi Yue, Zhu-Qing Gong, Hong Zhang, Nai-Yue Duan, Yu-Tong Shi, Gao-Xia Wei, You-Fa Li. The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults.  Frontiers in Psychology 2017 Jun 6. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874

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