More About Breath

Deep breathing techniques are easy to learn and can be performed virtually anywhere, anytime and in any position. The next time you feel anxious or overwhelmed, take a few minutes to practice deep breathing. Learning deep breathing techniques can help you relax your body and clear your mind. The good news is that your breath is always available and can be a powerful ally in coping with temporary physical and emotional states such as:

  • stress about your job
  • upset about an argument
  • exhaustion at the end of a long day

The breath has extraordinary restorative abilities.  By controlling your breath and slowing the pace you can alter your state of mind. In stressful situations, we tend to hold our breath and typically begin to breathe too quickly. This leads to a build up of oxygen in our bloodstream and a decrease of carbon dioxide, which upsets the ideal acid-alkaline balance (pH level) of the blood. Whereas slow, deep breathing raises the carbon dioxide level in the blood, which raises pH level back to a less toxic level. By learning simple breathing techniques and by becoming more mindful of how you breathe you can reduce tension, stress and anxiety.

 

Breathing is one of our most vital functions and yet we seldom think about it.  A lot of us, typically Westerners us forget how to breathe properly.  We tend to have shallow breathing, hold in our stomachs, make little use of our diaphragm, and breathe using the muscles of our upper chest, neck and shoulders. This is not an effective way to get the needed oxygen to our brain and muscles. If you watch babies or animals breathe, you will notice that they breathe with their whole bodies, their bellies rise and fall with each breath.

Chronic stress can lead to a restriction of the connective and muscular tissue in the chest resulting in a decrease range of motion of the chest wall.  Consequently, the chest does not expand as much as it would and much of the air exchange occurs at the top of the lung tissue towards the head. This results in "chest" breathing.

You can find out if you are a chest breather by placing your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your abdomen. As you breathe, see which hand rises more. If your right hand rises more, you are a chest breather. If your left hand rises more, you are an abdomen breather. Chest breathing is ineffective because the greatest amount of blood flow occurs in the lower lobes of the lungs, areas that have limited air expansion in chest breathers. Rapid, shallow breathing results in less oxygen transfer to the blood and subsequent poor delivery of nutrients to the tissues.

The good news is that we can re-learn how to breathe properly by breathing from our belly. Diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing in which you breathe deeply into the lungs and expend the diaphragm can make a significant difference both in oxygenating the body and relieving anxiety. When people are fearful, their bodies go into a flight or fight response, which has a domino effect on the entire system. Deep breathing can help calm jittery nerves and move the body into a state of relaxation and calm the mind.  Abdominal breathing is an extremely effective strategy for stress reduction.  A person's normal breathing rate is 8-12 breaths per minute.  A person who is under stress or in a state of panic tends to breathe faster (up to 20-30 breaths per minute) and more shallowly.  This results in not getting enough oxygen into the lungs, increasing feelings of the tension, stress and anxiousness.  By learning to be mindful and paying attention to your breath you will learn how to relax any time you are feeling stressed or anxious.

 

Breath with hands on chest

More to Consider

 

 

Benefits of Deep Breathing

  • Increases feelings of calmness and relaxation
  • Reduces stress, tension and anxiety
  • Increases energy
  • Improves focus and concentration
  • Boosts the lymphatic system (carries toxins away from cells)
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Lowers heart rate
  • Increases metabolism, aiding in digestion and weight loss
  • Improves sleep
  • Helps fight wrinkles