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How to breathe properly: West Malling expert reveals ways to reduce stress and improve your sleep


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It's something we all do 20,000 times a day, but have you ever stopped to consider whether you are doing it properly?

Experts in Kent and beyond say how we breathe can have a huge impact on our health - including reducing stress, improving our sleep, and helping us think more clearly.

And just because we do it automatically doesn't mean we're doing it correctly.

Transformational coach Martin Covill says our breathing needs to be nurtured to stop us from getting into bad habits that can contribute to health problems.

"We live our lives at 100mph and as a result we get into a pattern of shallow breathing and that means you are not fully inhaling or exhaling," he told KentOnline.

"The practice of inhaling is actually like an 'on' switch for your body, and when you exhale, it's like an 'off' switch.

"If you are continually shallow breathing, your body is in a constant 'on' state and that means your heart rate and blood pressure is up.

Transformational coach Martin Covill
Transformational coach Martin Covill

"And if you're constantly in that state it's not good for your body or your internal organs, so it's important to consider how you can try and put your body into a more 'off' state."

Mr Covill, who runs Mindful Coaching based in West Malling, and offers breathing sessions to clients, estimates the vast majority of us are not taking in enough oxygen to breathe properly and therefore our bodies and minds are stuck in a stressful state.

So how did we end up doing it wrong?

Sitting for extended periods of time - in the car, on the train, at our desks at work, and on the sofa - are all said to have a negative impact, as can bad posture.

"There's also things like the way we use our phones now and the constant messaging that pops up all the time, it's all in front of you and we are constantly alert because of that," he said.

"The best advocates of breathing in a real positive way are actually babies.

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"If you look at how a baby breathes they breathe from their diaphragm - from their belly - and they're not breathing from the top of their chest."

Mr Covill, whose clients range from entrepreneurs, to parents, and young people, says stress can sometimes manifest itself in shortness of breath and even panic attacks - something he used to suffer from himself.

"They are symptoms of the automatic breathing that happens on a day to day basis," he said.

"I got into this whole practice in the first place through stress and high workloads - even to the extremes of having panic attacks - and adopting this breathing practice is absolutely fantastic because it calms the mind.

"Getting into a routine with breathing practices can definitely have an impact on anybody that suffers from stress or the pressures of life"

"So getting into a routine with these kinds of practices can definitely have an impact on anybody that suffers from stress or the pressures of life.

The expert is an advocate of the 4-7-8 breathing technique developed by Dr Andrew Weil, which involves breathing in deeply through your nose for four seconds, holding your breath for seven, and breathing out for eight.

It is often used in yoga and has been credited with relaxing people, helping them feel more energised, and also getting insomniacs to fall asleep.

Mr Covill, speaking to coincide with World Breathing Day yesterday, recommends doing it three times a day - morning, afternoon and evening.

His comments come as the latest figures show six areas of Kent are in breach of World Health Organisation guidelines on air pollution, putting the lives of nearly a million residents at risk.

The NHS also recommends practicing breathing techniques, saying they take just a few minutes can help fight stress, anxiety, and panic attacks.

It states they can be done standing up, sitting in a chair that supports your back, lying on a bed, or on a yoga mat on the floor.

But experts say for maximum benefit they should be done regularly, preferably daily.

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