Benefits of Deep Breathing
- Breathing Detoxifies and Releases Toxins – Your body is designed to release 70% of its toxins through exhalation. If you are not breathing effectively, you are not properly ridding your body of its toxins and other systems in your body must work harder to compensate, although not likely as effectively. When you exhale carbon dioxide, a natural metabolic waste, is released.
- Breathing Releases Tension – Anger, fear, and stress produce involuntary muscle constriction (tension). Under these circumstances, intracellular magnesium levels drop, your muscles constrict, and your breathing becomes shallow, depriving your body of necessary oxygen. Voluntarily inhalation sufficient to fully expand the lungs and expel pooled carbon dioxide from the system is extremely beneficial and helps alleviate some of the symptoms associated with these types of stressors.
- Breathing Relaxes the Mind and Brings Clarity – Oxygenation of the brain allows for proper neural function that may reduce excessive anxiety levels. Pay attention to your breathing. Breathe slowly, deeply and purposefully in and out. Pay attention to your body and mind and as you relax you may find focused breathing brings clarity and insights as well.
- Breathing Relieves Emotional Problems – Many ancient and traditional healing practices and philosophies teach that breathing may help balance physical and emotional energy that may be afflicted by stress and tension..
- Breathing Relieves Pain – Pain is a trigger for the natural “fight-or-flight” response that increases metabolism and oxygen requirements throughout the body’s systems. Pain also triggers an instinctive defensive reaction designed to reduce exposure to an injury and protect the functioning portions of the body. In martial arts it is often demonstrated how tension is the best defense against impact when a strike cannot be avoided altogether. The defending muscles constrict, stabilize and absorb the impact to prevent penetrating injury to the delicate organs and tissues beneath. A defensive posture with flaccid muscle defense is considered incorrect posture and often results in sparring injury. These techniques are a direct martial cultivation of our natural defensive instinct in the face of pain. With increased muscle tension, the oxygen requirements are dramatically increased and, when not properly supplied, may lead to cellular aggravation as the direct result. Deep breathing and breathing exercises in the face of pain has been shown to increase available serum oxygen and reduce inflammation. With adequate oxygen saturation of the lungs and bloodstream, certain forms of pain are often and quickly alleviated.
- Breathing Massages Your Organs – Indigenous and traditional therapeutic modalities and life-enhancement practices, such as Tai Chi, Qi Qong and Yoga, teach that the movements of the diaphragm during the deep breathing exercise massages the stomach, small intestine, liver, pancreas, and heart.
- Breathing Strengthens the Immune System – Oxygen travels through your bloodstream by attaching to hemoglobin in your red blood cells. This in turn then enriches your entire body with necessary oxygen required by leukocyte (white) blood cells to attack harmful pathogens and repair damaged tissues.
- Breathing Improves and Requires Posture – It is generally difficult, and sometimes painful, to inhale fully without good posture in the upper and mid back and neck. Good breathing techniques, practiced over a sustained period of time, have been shown to promote and encourage good posture. Poor posture restricts breathing and may impede proper oxygen intake.
- Breathing Improves Quality of the Blood – Deep breathing removes carbon dioxide from the bloodstream and increases whole-body oxygen saturation.
- Breathing Improves the Nervous System – The human body contains billions of nerve cells and they all require oxygen and glucose for fuel.
- Breathing: the Lungs and Heart –The function of the lungs is to provide the necessary gaseous exchange of oxygen and other gases to and from the bloodstream. “Red” blood corpuscles carry oxygen to every cell and system of the body, which all require adequate oxygen exchange to function properly. According to the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency, the average human inhales approximately 35 pounds of air through 20,000 breaths each day – make them quality breaths!
- Proper Breathing assists in Weight Control – When undergoing a weight loss or exercise program, oxygen requirements are significantly increased. Poor oxygen intake often results in cellular stress with closely associated cortisol production as the result, often leading to the psychological need to eat high-energy and calorie rich foods. As an integral part of any program with regular physical exercise, adequate hydration and a healthy diet, adequate breathing is essential to healthy weight management.
How should I breathe?
Much like so many other aspect of our life we take little things for granted – swallowing, blinking, thinking, digesting our food, a beating heart, and breathing! If you decide to engage in an exercise program or have to chase a runaway puppy, you likely will become very aware of how difficult breathing – or catching your breath – can be! It is not uncommon to become a “shallow” breather where you neither fully expand the lower or upper lung. Your diaphragm is rarely involved – after all having your stomach stick out is just…not flattering – and the full expansion of the upper lobe is often neglected.
Diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing or deep breathing is breathing that is done by contracting the diaphragm, a system of muscles located horizontally between the chest cavity and stomach cavity. Air enters the lungs and the belly expands during this type of breathing and is marked by expansion of the abdomen rather than the chest when breathing. It is considered by some to be a healthier way to breathe and a useful form of complementary and alternative treatment for pain and tension.
As you practice the three exercises below, focus on fully emptying your lungs AND fully expanding them to fill the whole lung. As with any exercise program, follow the advice of your practitioner!
Three Breathing Exercises from Dr. Andrew Weil
"Practicing regular, mindful breathing can be calming and energizing and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders." Andrew Weil, M.D.
Since breathing is something we can control and regulate, it is a useful tool for achieving a relaxed and clear state of mind. I recommend three breathing exercises to help relax and reduce stress: The Stimulating Breath, The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise (also called the Relaxing Breath), and Breath Counting. Try each and see how they affect your stress and anxiety levels.
Exercise 1: The Stimulating Breath (also called the Bellows Breath)
The Stimulating Breath is adapted from a yogic breathing technique. Its aim is to raise vital energy and increase alertness.
- Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose, keeping your mouth closed but relaxed. Your breaths in and out should be equal in duration, but as short as possible. This is a noisy breathing exercise.
- Try for three in-and-out breath cycles per second. This produces a quick movement of the diaphragm, suggesting a bellows. Breathe normally after each cycle.
- Do not do for more than 15 seconds on your first try. Each time you practice the Stimulating Breath, you can increase your time by five seconds or so, until you reach a full minute.
If done properly, you may feel invigorated, comparable to the heightened awareness you feel after a good workout. You should feel the effort at the back of the neck, the diaphragm, the chest and the abdomen. Try this breathing exercise the next time you need an energy boost and feel yourself reaching for a cup of coffee.
Exercise 2: The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise
This exercise is utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.
This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass.
Once you develop this technique by practicing it every day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens - before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep. This exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it.
Exercise 3: Breath Counting
If you want to get a feel for this challenging work, try your hand at breath counting, a deceptively simple technique much used in Zen practice.
- Sit in a comfortable position with the spine straight and head inclined slightly forward. Gently close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Then let the breath come naturally without trying to influence it. Ideally it will be quiet and slow, but depth and rhythm may vary.
- To begin the exercise, count "one" to yourself as you exhale.
- The next time you exhale, count "two," and so on up to "five."
- Then begin a new cycle, counting "one" on the next exhalation.
- Never count higher than "five," and count only when you exhale. You will know your attention has wandered when you find yourself up to "8," "12," even "19."
- Try to do 10 minutes of this form of meditation.
Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise
Now that you know how to breathe, we will discuss two terms that are used generally when it comes to exercise – Aerobic and Anaerobic. Depending on the school of thought, some exercise gurus believe their way is better than any other way – period! Yet others find a blend of the two to be the most beneficial. During aerobic exercise there is sufficient oxygen intake needed to sustain the current level of activity without using additional energy from another energy source. Aerobic exercise is light activity you can sustain over long periods of time, such as jogging. In anaerobic exercise, oxygen consumption is not sufficient to supply the energy demands being placed on your muscles. Therefore your muscles begin to break down sugars, resulting in higher lactic acid production. Anaerobic activity is bursts of activity for short periods of time, such as sprinting. The key to getting the best results is to have a workout that incorporates both.
- Both types of exercise burn fat
- Both boost the metabolism that will last for hours after the workout
- Aerobic exercise increases your endurance and cardiac health
- Anaerobic exercise helps you gain lean muscle mass
Some exercise enthusiasts will do anaerobic exercises and aerobic exercises on alternate days. For example: on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – strength or interval training; on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday – aerobic workouts, jogging, walks. This provides the best of both worlds AND gives the muscles a chance to recover between the anaerobic workouts.