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Sighing: It’s not rude but necessary!

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December 18, 2023

Ever been in a conversation when you took a big sigh by taking a deep inhale and just whooshed out the air from your mouth, and the person talking felt offended? Well, the reason for that sigh is not them but YOU. 

Don’t feel battered up now because sighing is actually a good thing! It simply helps you relax from stress and anxiety. Many suffer from disturbed sleep, job stress, and personal issues but when your body gets loaded by these feelings, it needs to release some of it. That is where your sigh comes and yes it feels amazing!   

A sigh is an intense form of relaxation from your body that is involuntary and reflexive. You can also practice this consciously whenever you need to calm yourself down! This breathwork practice is also known as cyclic breathing. 

A study was published in the journal Cell Reports Medicine where they showed how cyclic breathing is more effective at improving mood than mindfulness meditation and other breathwork techniques. Highlights of this study were:

  • Practicing 5-minute sessions of breathwork and mindfulness meditation every day can enhance your mood and alleviate anxiety.
  • Breathwork appears to have a greater positive impact on both mood and physiological arousal compared to mindfulness meditation.
  • Among the different types of breathwork, cyclic sighing is the most effective at improving mood and reducing the rate of respiration.

Both mindfulness meditation and breathwork exercises involve focusing on your breath, but the goal of mindfulness is to be aware of your breath in the present moment, while breathwork exercises aim to give you more direct control over your breathing. This greater sense of control could help reduce anxiety since feeling powerless is a common aspect of anxiety.

Andrew Huberman, Standford neuroscientist and one of the researchers in this study, says that a “physiological sigh” is the best way to reduce stress in a tense situation. It allows you to calm down at that moment, without removing the stressor. Now that the excitement has been built around cyclic breathing backed up with research, let’s learn how to do it correctly to achieve maximum results:

  1. Take one inhale followed by another short inhale through the nose
  2. Then, take one long exhale through the mouth

Physiological Sigh

In this video, Andrew Huberman shows how you can perform this breathwork. This is the most effective way to practice it but if you do not prefer this, you can also try both inhaling and exhaling completely through your nose OR your mouth! 

You must be wondering, “why am I inhaling twice?”. The answer is simple - double inhalation allows more oxygen to enter your lungs and then the long exhale in the form of a sigh helps your body to quickly get rid of more carbon dioxide. This way, your body relaxes quickly! 

To get some “biology” into this, our lungs are NOT two big bags but are made up of millions of air sacks (alveoli). If you lay down these sacks, their volume is as big as a Tennis court! These sacks help in the intake of more oxygen but also expulse more carbon dioxide. Inhaling twice (first long followed by a short inhale) helps to reinflate any of these little sacks that have collapsed. This in turn helps to offload more carbon dioxide! 

I have not mentioned the best part yet! You do not need to sit in a quiet place for 5 - 10mins to perform this breathing exercise. 3 physiological sighs are enough to bring down your stress levels and make you feel calmer! 

Give it a try now and use this simple yet effective breathing technique when you find yourself in a fix. Also, next time anybody calls you impolite for giving a sigh, make them try this breathing as well! 

Sources:

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