Right now, as you are reading this, how are you breathing? Are you slumped forward, tensed up and taking shallow breaths? If so, and if this is your fallback breathing style, you are depriving yourself of some vital physical and mental health benefits.
This is something so easy to change, and it can make such a big difference in how you feel every day.
Breathing is important for two reasons: it supplies our bodies and organs with the oxygen necessary for survival, and it rids our bodies of waste products. Oxygen is essential for our brains , nerves, glands and internal organs. Without it, we would die within minutes. If the brain is deprived of oxygen, it can damage other organs and systems in our bodies. Lack of oxygen is a major cause of heart disease, strokes, and cancer.
Most of us breathe improperly.
Modern technology has made us sedentary most of the day. There is less need to breathe deeply, so we have developed a habit of shallow breathing. When we are in a hurry and rushed, our breathing follows suit. When we are stressed, anxious or focused on a problem, our bodies contract. We bend forward, head down, arms together, with muscles tensed. All of these postures constrict breathing. This shallow breathing style becomes a habit reinforced by our daily lifestyle.
What's wrong with shallow breathing?
- Shallow breathing causes us to lose some of the function in our lungs because the lungs don't get enough exercise.
- We become more fatigued because of the reduced oxygen to the blood and reduced circulation.
- When we don't have sufficient oxygen and we aren't expelling enough carbon dioxide, we build up toxins in every cell of our bodies.
- Oxygen starvation leads to premature aging, reduced vitality, and a weaker immune system.
- With our shallow breathing lifestyles, we use only about a tenth of our lung capacity. It is enough to survive, but not enough for a high quality of life and a high resistance to disease.
- An editorial in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine suggested that fast, shallow breathing can cause fatigue, sleep disorders, anxiety, stomach upsets, heart burn, gas, muscle cramps, dizziness, visual problems, chest pain and heart palpitations.
Are you hyperventilating yet? Fortunately, it is possible to turn all of this around and change your shallow breathing habit. Just by becoming aware of the benefits of deep breathing, you will begin to make changes.
Here are some tips on how to change your bad breathing habits and begin to enjoy the healing properties of the air we breathe.
1. Take note of your breathing regularly. Just become aware of how you are taking in air throughout the day.
2. Sit up straighter, stretch, become aware of where you are tensing your body.
3. Breathe through your nose. The nose has defense mechanisms that prevent impurities and excessively cold air from entering the body. It also can detect poisonous gases that could be harmful. Pathogens can enter the lungs through mouth breathing — so keep your mouth closed and let your nose do the work.
4. When you inhale, push your stomach forward gently, and breathe through as though you are filling your stomach. This is called abdominal breathing.
5. When you exhale, breathe out slowly, and gently allow your stomach to return to its normal position.
6. Notice the difference between shallow breathing (which stops at the chest) and abdominal breathing. Abdominal breathing fills the lower lobes of the lungs, and it massages the abdominal organs by the movements of the diaphragm.
In addition to making these changes in your regular breathing style, you can further increase the health benefits of breathing by practicing a few minutes of deep or complete breathing every day. The complete breathe, which is practiced in yoga, involves the entire respiratory system and employs all of the muscles.
Here are some simple instructions on deep breathing:
- Sit in a meditative position, like the lotus position, or in a chair with your spine straight.
- Inhale slowly until your lungs are filled to capacity.
- At the end of the inhalation, pause for a count of two.
- Exhale slowly, smoothly and completely. Pause at the end of the exhalation as well.
- When you first begin, don't take too full a breath at once. Start by breathing to the count of four, pausing for the count of two, and exhaling to the count of four.
- During the first week, don't take more than 5-6 deep breaths at one time as this could cause hyperventilation.
- With practice, you will enlarge your lung capacity and be able to inhale more air than you have previously.
If you need more reasons why changing your breathing habits is beneficial for you, here's a summary of what deep breathing can do for you.
Improve the quality of your blood through eliminating toxins and increased oxygenation.
Improve the digestion and assimilation of food through a more efficient stomach and digestive system.
Improve the health and function of the nervous system by increased oxygenation.
Rejuvenate your skin and reduce facial wrinkles.
Improve the function of the abdominal organs and the heart through increased circulation.
Help prevent respiratory problems as the lungs become stronger and more powerful.
Reduce blood pressure and helps prevent heart disease as the heart becomes more efficient and stronger and the work load on the heart is reduced.
Assist in weight control as extra oxygen burns excess fat more efficiently.
Reduces stress and promotes relaxation of the mind and body as slow, deep, rhythmic breathing causes a reflex stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which results in a reduction in the heart rate and relaxation of the muscles. Also, oxygenation of the brain tends to normalize brain function, reducing anxiety levels.
This very simple change can make a profound difference in your health, vitality and quality of life. Why not start right now? Sit up straight. Breathe deeply. Now go live a long and healthy life!