Breathing well for good health…..
Right now, while you’re reading this article – take a moment to think about how you’re breathing.
Look at your posture – are you slumped forwards, with your chest tense, your spine rigid, and your lungs struggling to manage small, shallow breaths? If this is the case, and it’s your fall-back breathing style, then you’re depriving yourself of some pretty serious health benefits. After all – it’s probably no surprise to learn that breathing well is good for your health.
Fortunately, if your current breathing techniques aren’t up to scratch – this is an issue that you can change easily – and it can make a huge difference to how you feel every day.
So, why is breathing so important?
First of all, breathing gives our bodies and organs the oxygen it needs to survive – ridding our lungs of waste products like carbon dioxide. Oxygen is essential to our nerves, brains, internal organs, and glands – to the point that if we didn’t have any oxygen, we’d be dead in minutes! Secondly, if the brain is deprived of oxygen, this can lead to damage in other body systems too. After all, a lack of oxygen is a major cause of things like strokes, heart disease, and cancer.
Yet, despite how important breathing is – most of us are doing it wrong. The innovation of various modern technologies has meant that most of us stay sedentary for the majority of the day, meaning that there’s less need to breathe deeply. As a result, we have developed a habit for shallow breathing. This shallow breathing issue becomes particularly evident when we’re stressed, anxious, or focused on a problem.
The Dangers of Shallow Breathing
Take a deep breath and you’ll notice that your chest expands outwards as your lungs fill with air. Paradoxical breathing occurs when the chest doesn’t move as it should – reducing your ability to inhale and minimising your air intake.
Unfortunately, this breathing habit is bad for us in a range of different ways, for instance:
- Research suggests that fast, shallow breathing – otherwise known as paradoxical breathing, can cause sleep disorders, fatigue, visual problems, heart palpitations and chest pains.
- When we breath quickly, and without taking in the ideal amount of oxygen, we’re only using about a tenth of our lung capacity. Although this obviously enough to survive on – it’s not ideal when you’re looking for a high quality of life and a good immune response.
- Oxygen starvation – which comes with shallow breathing, leads to reduced vitality, premature aging, and a range of other problems.
- When we don’t expel enough carbon dioxide, we also start to build up toxins throughout the cells of our bodies – causing us to become more fatigued. What’s more, we feel exhaustion due to a lack of oxygen in our muscles
- Shallow breathing causes our lungs to lose some of their function because they don’t get enough regular exercise. Simply put – if you don’t use it, you lose it.
If those concerns have gotten you hyperventilating – don’t worry. It’s possible to turn the habit of bad breathing techniques around, and just by becoming aware of the problem, you’ll be on the route to making some crucial changes.
Abdominal, or Belly Breathing
So what’s the opposite to shallow, paradoxical breathing? Breaths that move your entire body. Diaphragmatic breathing, or abdominal breathing is a technique that is used to engage the diaphragm as you breath. You might have heard it being used before by actors and singers.
When you inhale, your diaphragm naturally moves downwards and contracts, and this movement sets off a range of new events, creating negative pressure in the lungs and expanding them. When you exhale, the diaphragm muscles move upwards and relax, which pushes air out of your lungs through your breath.
Most experts regard belly breathing to be our natural state for breathing. The stomach should fall and rise with little effort, and many people automatically breath this way when they are relaxed or sleeping. Of course, through regular habit, restrictive clothing, poor posture, and other conditions, we’re becoming less and less likely to breathe deeply.
Since abdominal breathing can help to promote relaxation and fight back against various health problems, it’s worth re-learning how to do it – even if you have to force yourself into a deep breathing routine a few times a day.
Step 1: Lie or Sit Comfortably
Find a quiet or comfortable place where you can relax. You can either sit in your favourite chair, stretch out on the bed, or curl up beneath a big tree – it’s totally up to you. You could even call into your massage parlour if you like.
Step 2: Know Where to Put your Hands
Most people find that when they’re actively trying to relax – the hands are the things that get in the way most. For some reason, they seem to have nowhere to go! For abdominal breathing, you should be resting one palm just above the naval, while the other is on your upper chest.
Step 3: Inhale
Once you’re ready, breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose, feeling your stomach rise with the motion. Don’t push your abdominal muscles outwards or force the motion. Every movement should be smooth, and the hand on your chest should stay still.
Step 3: Exhale
Allow your stomach to slowly relax, feeling the hand that is on it falling inwards towards your spine. Once again, don’t try to suck in your stomach or clench your muscles, just relax and allow yourself to enjoy the experience naturally.
Three Breathing Techniques to Try
Feeling unwell, overwhelmed, or stressed? Before you turn to other solutions like a bottle of wine or an entire bar of chocolate, simply take a few deep breaths.
Literally three deep breaths can be enough to help you find your centre and relax when everything feels as though it’s falling apart. At the same time, you can always sample a few different breathing techniques to see if one helps to calm you more than another. For instance:
Balance is a great thing in life – so balancing your breath can be a great first step to good health. To start, inhale while counting to three, then exhale while counting to three – all through your nose. Once you get this three-count down, you can gradually increase your count – to four, five, even six seconds of breathing in, then the same breathing out.
All of this balanced breathing helps to increase focus, calm the mind, and reduce stress. Though this technique works anywhere and at any time, it’s best used for relaxing before bed, as it has a similar effect to counting sheep.
Have you got a happy place? Most of us imagine a specific time or place when we’re feeling the most stressed. For this breathing technique, you’ll need to head straight there and breathe deeply while focusing on positive images that can help to replace stressful or negative thoughts.
This can be a useful way of achieving mindfulness and bringing yourself back to the moment at hand if you’re panicking about the future or dwelling on the past.
Finally, if you can’t head to your therapist for a relaxation massage, then you’re going to need to think of a new way to nix the tension that you’re feeling from head to toe. Close your eyes and focus on tensing each muscle in your body, then actively relaxing them for two to three seconds at a time. It’s usually a good idea to start at your toes and work all the way up to the top of your head.
Remember, while slow breaths should be the goal – you should never try to make yourself dizzy by holding your breath. Just relax, and take everything slowly – being mindful of your physical state.
Pushing Yourself to Breathe Heavier
If you’re struggling to break out of a cycle of shallow breathing – there’s one very simple solution. Besides massage that can help you to draw more attention to your natural breath and your body, regular cardiovascular or aerobic exercise increases the heart rate, which makes you breathe deeper too!
Thirty minutes of hard puffing every day can do wonders not only for your physical health – but your mental health too, by helping you to regain your centre and pay more attention to your shallow breathing habits. Here are just a few options for exercises that are sure to leave you breathless:
- Jumping Jacks
Jumping jacks work the arms and legs at the same time, while boosting your heart rate. Simply stand with your arms at your sides and your feet together, then jump up while bringing your arms straight out and above your head. Your feet should land slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
Running or jogging is a great exercise for getting you to focus on your breathing. When you run, you begin to notice the constant pattern of inhale, and exhale that keeps pushing you forward. You’ll find that the more you work to control your breathing and enjoy deep – nourishing breaths, the faster and farther you can go on the track.
Swimming is yet another fantastic solution for people who are struggling to maintain good breathing patterns. Since the chances are you’ll be facing down towards the water during breath strokes, you’ll need to time each breath carefully and ensure that it is full and strong enough to keep you supported as you move through the water.
While you’re performing these exercises, you should also be taking steps to focus on your breathing habits. For instance:
- Make sure that you take regular notice of your breathing – being aware of poor breathing techniques can help you to break bad habits
- Keep your spine straight and make sure that your lungs are open to let air in.
- When you exhale, make sure that you breathe out slowly, allowing your stomach to return to its natural position.
- When you inhale, push your stomach forward gently, and make sure that you act as though you’re filling your stomach with air.
The more you focus on your breathing during exercise, the more likely you are to notice when you’re doing something that’s going to be damaging to your health in the long run. What’s more, when you’re making these changes to your natural breathing style during exercise, you’ll begin to notice poor practices more commonly during day-to-day tasks too.
The Benefits of Good Breathing
We’ve already covered some of the main benefits of healthy, deep breathing, but if you still need more reasons to convince you to switch up your breathing habits, here’s a quick look at what deep breathing solutions can do for you:
- Promote relaxation and reduce stress: Slow and deep breathing calls a reflex stimulation in the parasympathetic nervous system which relaxes the muscles and reduces the heart rate. Also, oxygenation of the brain helps to reduce panicked brain functions which can cause stress and anxiety.
- Reduce blood pressure: Because the heart becomes more efficient and stronger thanks to an increased level of oxygen in the blood, you benefit from a stronger circulatory system and a lower risk of heart disease.
- Improve the function of the nervous system: Again, the nervous system, the skin, and even the digestion system all benefit from increased exposure to oxygen.
Use the tips above and you’ll quickly find that deep, mindful breathing is a breath of fresh air to your tired lungs.