Life is linked to the breath. The first action a newborn baby takes is to fill its lungs with air – then lets out a cry to let the world know it has arrived! Indeed from that point, one breathes every few seconds and continues to breathe as long as one is alive. Breathing is an involuntary activity that people usually don’t think about. But breathing deeply and correctly is one of the most important actions one can teach oneself, and it is well worth learning.
Let’s take a look at the benefits of proper breathing, quite apart from its basic benefit of keeping us alive!
Deep breathing releases respiratory tension and improves posture
Breathing deeply helps to release tension in the primary breathing muscles, relieving long-term respiratory issues such as asthma and relaxing the chest area, allowing for a more relaxed posture.
Deep breathing calms the nervous system
By activating the parasympathetic nervous system deep breathing relaxes us, deactivating the “fight or flight” type of response that is usually associated with shallow breathing.
Deep breathing strengthens our immunity to illness
The lymph fluid flows that cleanse the body and fight against bacteria, viruses and other threats to our health are enhanced by deep breathing. Good breathing also reduces stress, taking the body’s chemical balance to an alkaline level, in which illnesses like cancer do not thrive.
Deep breathing improves the cardiovascular system
Deep diaphragmatic breathing helps to massage and increase circulation to the heart. In one study, 100% of heart attack patients were found to be shallow chest breathers while heart attack survivors who adopted exercise and breath training experienced a 50% reduction in their risk factor of a heart attack.
Deep breathing helps digestion
Increased blood flow in the digestive tract through deep breathing encourages intestinal action, improves overall digestion, and promotes a calmer nervous system, helping to resolve irritable bowel syndrome and constipation.
Deep breathing improves mental clarity and performance
Our brains need a great deal of oxygen to achieve clarity and feel grounded and productive. Our mind is relaxed by deep breathing, enhancing our ability to focus, concentrate and learn. Breathing properly helps overcome addictions and negative patterns of behavior and finally, builds creativity.
Breath keeps us looking youthful
We all know a happy face is more beautiful than a stressed or angry one. Deep breathing relaxes the body and mind, making us calmer and happier. It also helps to elevate levels of serotonin and endorphins, which are brain chemicals that improve our mood and make us look better.
What more can breath do?
Perhaps the biggest benefit is its spiritual effect, deepening yoga and meditation practice, creating inner peace, and leading us to higher states of consciousness.
How do you breathe?
Most of us don’t use our whole respiratory capacity to breathe – we use just 33%. It’s useful to view a sleeping newborn baby’s back, tummy and chest moving together as it breathes, like a wave that ebbs and flows. But as we grow up, some of us become shallow breathers when stressed, depressed, short of sleep, or during a bad day at work. You can change this.
Train yourself to feel the rise and fall of your belly as you breathe… imagine that there is a balloon inside you, expanding with each breath. This creates a deep diaphragmatic breath. To train yourself further, lie on your back, placing a heavy book on your belly and hold your hands above it. As you inhale, gently push the book into your hands and keep it there as you breathe in and out. This can help you learn the correct habit of deep breathing.
Finally, set aside at least five or ten minutes each day for deep breathing, once in the morning and once in the evening. Breathe in slowly, over a count of five seconds, hold your breath for three to five seconds, and then breathe out counting five seconds again. This is a useful practice that will help you to relax, ease stress, and handle your life and work better!