Breathe Deeply. Live Longer.

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!

Comments

  1. An open chest with shoulders back and deep breathing are important not only to oxygenation but good posture and a feelings of well-being and confidence. When I rode dressage (always in the early beginner/novice level), one thing I learned both from dressage and hunter-jumper was to keep an open chest, head and eyes up to see what was coming – I breathed much better. Now, when I walk, especially after I see others hunched over, I straighten my shoulders, open my chest and breathe. Oh, so much better! Thank you for this important post.
    PS – reduce blood pressure? Adopt a dog :).
    .-= Roberta´s last blog ..Lovely Autumn – and NO to Prop B =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thank you for sharing that great info Roberta. I frequently catch myself hunched and slumped over my computer. But the breathing exercise really does make you feel better. And a puppy would definitely help reduce blood pressure.

  2. Thank you for this reminder Barrie. Just sitting here at my desk and starring in this computer it came at the right moment.
    Now I will sit up straight, get centered and try to take care of my breath for the rest of the (working) day.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Wonderful Dori! Reading your response, I just sat up straighter too. I’m glad the post was helpful.

  3. Laurie Bick says:

    I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t an “abdominal breather” but I do know that, like everyone else, I’m guilty of shallow breathing when I’m stressed or upset. Back in my high school days, my mother taught me alternate breathing (close off the left nostril with your finger, breathe in through the right to a count of 7; close off the right nostril and exhale through the left to a count of 10; inhale through the right … etc.) as a yoga exercise and I find that when I need to re-center and breathe better, it really helps.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Laurie,
      I just tried the alternate breathing — wow! It does really help. Thank you for sharing that. Your mom knew what she was talking about.

  4. Tess The Bold Life says:

    One can’t be anxious and breathing deeply at the same time. I’ve also used it to put me to sleep at night. Hubs and I received a sleep CD on our pillows around 4 years ago at a hotel . We’d play it at night and we’d never make it to the end because we’d fall asleep.
    And guess what it was all about…deep breathing!
    .-= Tess The Bold Life´s last blog ..Fabulous Female Bloggers Changing the World =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Oh, that is so cool Tess. I want a sleep CD!! That sounds wonderful. I’m going to bed now, so I think I’ll try some deep breathing. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Great post Barrie. For a bit more than a year now I’ve been spending a few minutes every evening before I go to bed breathing with tummy. It’s amazing how quickly I relax. I start to yawn, hands, arms, and all the rest of me gives up its tension….I’ve found that breathing in such fashion for just a few minutes before I see the doctor is also a great kindness to myself.
    .-= Christopher Foster´s last blog ..Trust your body- love your body- listen to your body =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Christopher,
      I’m so glad you liked it! What great suggestions about breathing before bed. And absolutely, breathing before you see the doc — I am a ball of tension when I walk into a doctor’s office. Hope you’ll comment again soon.

  6. Alex Yong says:

    Hello Barrie,

    Good to be back here again.

    After reading this post, now I sit up straight and stand straight, chest facing forward. Great posture! And feels great too!

    Thanks for this informative post on breathing, and yes, breathe deeply, live longer. I was wondering if this is the main reason why turtles can live to a few hundred years old?
    .-= Alex Yong´s last blog ..Go MOH and Make Others Happy Today =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Alex,
      Glad to see you here! I’m delighted you are paying attention to your breathing. It will serve you well. I hope you’ll come back soon and comment again.

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