You've been breathing your whole life — you'd think you'd be an expert. A quick way to find out: Lie on your back and place your hands on your lower belly. Take three deep breaths. Did your hands rise up or sink down as you inhaled?
If your belly sinks, this is called reverse breathing, which can trigger the sympathetic nervous system to release excess stress hormones (cortisol is one) into the body. But you can learn to breathe normally again, with practice. Do this exercise a few times a day: Lie on your back with your hands on your belly. Breathe in through your nose and expand your belly (feel it push against your hands). As you exhale through your nose, feel your belly move away from your hands. Better, right? Read on for more benefits.
Breathe for More Energy
When you're fighting sluggishness or need to feel alert, inhale through the nose instead of the mouth. And breathing through the right nostril stimulates blood and oxygen flow to the left side of the brain, which can awaken the brain's verbal and critical-thinking centers, says Fiona Gupta, MD, a neurologist at the Movement Disorders Center of Hackensack University Medical Center. Doing it for just a minute or two can give you the shot of energy you need.
TRY IT: Sit in a chair. With the left hand, place a finger or thumb gently on your left nostril. Close your eyes; breathe through your right nostril. Inhale as you count to 5, then exhale as you count to 5. When you inhale, focus on drawing the breath first into your chest, then into your lower rib area, and finally into your lower belly. Reverse this pattern as you exhale.
Breathe for More Calm
Breathing through your left nostril can slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure. Repeat the instructions for "More Energy" breathing, but do it on the opposite side (close your right nostril; breathe through your left). You can also try a different method called alternate-nostril breathing, described below. It requires a bit more coordination but pays off in serenity.
TRY IT: Sit tall, close your left nostril with a finger or thumb, and inhale once slowly through the right one. Then open the left nostril, close the right, and exhale through the left. Inhale through the left, close that nostril, and exhale through the right. Continue to alternate for at least five rounds.
This story originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.