20,000 Times a Day
This is the number of times, approximately, that you breathe in a day! The quality of your breathing has a direct correlation to how you think, feel, digest, and sleep. it’s worth paying attention to.
When we learn to breathe well, we naturally feel more alive and vital, yet balanced and grounded. Even if some experience or thought interrupts that balance, knowing how to breathe well will assist in a rapid return to greater equanimity.
Dedication to understanding and deepening connection to breath offers the following benefits:
* boosts immunity
* lowers blood pressure
* helps insomnia
* Lowers oxidative stress that causes faster aging
* Lowers anxiety, overthinking, pain
* Balances the nervous system
* impacts physiology and cellular health
* unites body, mind & soul
How you currently breathe is largely affected by emotional reactions to life, plus your posture and movement habits have an effect. How you breathe is also an indicator of longevity and general health. Poor breathing puts you at risk for, or exacerbates a host of imbalances:
* low energy
* Acidity – imbalance in your chemical composition which can eventually cause a host of medical disorders
* sleep issues
* increased pain
* digestive issues
* spinal health issues
* hyperarousal of nervous system
* cognitive issues – difficulty concentrating, memory
Your body’s main source of energy is OXYGEN. Most people don’t breathe deep enough and use very little of their lungs or diaphragm. Just because you can take a deep breath here and there, it does not make you a good breather overall.
Maybe you can identify with one of these (abnormal) breathing patterns:
- Reverse Breathing – you draw your belly in on the inhale and release it out on the exhale. If so, you’re taking in way less oxygen, and going against what your body is naturally meant to do. Some theories claim this habit stems from anxiety in childhood.
- Breath Holder – yes it could be you! Another stress fuelled pattern and very common. This periodic breath holding throughout the day throws your body out of balance as it tries to compensate for the moments in which you are not letting carbon dioxide out or oxygen in.
- Over Breather – chronic shallow breathing results in an imbalance of of carbon dioxide & oxygen. You’re breathing more quickly and the rate is too high, ph levels are usually off as well. Every once in a while you’re forced into a deeper breath to compensate.
- Hover Breather – sipping air in and barely letting it out, body barely moves, usually you are bracing yourself. Remember, it’s ok to let go!
- Mouth Breather – oh yes, we’ve all been there way too often. Your brain and body react differently depending on air coming in through your nose or mouth. You might need to mouth breathe during hard exercise, but otherwise it’s not ideal. Also, mouth breathers have a tendency to lean forward with their head and shoulders which can cause structural issues through the neck and upper back.
Mouth breathing doesn’t give you the oxygen/carbon dioxide balance your require and fails to deliver the oxygen demands of brain & body.
Nose breathing is essential for your health and proper nasal breathing requires the ideal posture of your tongue resting at the roof of your mouth with the tip just behind your front teeth, which trains the muscles of the neck and throat to support your airways.
Nasal breathing also mixes the air with nitric oxide which increases the blood flow to your blood vessels and helps your cells absorb more oxygen.
Breathing is one of the body’s main ways to keep the balance of the Autonomic Nervous System. When you are stressed (often due to thoughts and improper breathing), your sympathetic nervous system turns on and increases your heart rate, breath rate, and then directs blood flow away from the core (organs and digestive system in this case) in case you have to “fight or flee”.
Many people habitually breathe in a way that keeps them in this survival mode – a perpetual state of fight or flight with adrenaline levels high. Too much of this can lead to a cascade of health problems and things like energy depletion and insomnia. Talking to a therapist about your stress and anxiety will be of limited help unless they help you to address dysfunctional breathing. Why? Because the way you shift your breathing can have an immediate affect on your state of arousal, your levels of clear thinking, your ability to ‘attend & befriend’ yourself, your memory, and your ability to accept and retain new information.
If they can help you move towards a parasympathetic state (the other part of the ANS, along with the enteric nervous system), it slows your heart rate, increases blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (where you can begin to feel more clear, centred and responsive as opposed to reactive), and increases the healing response and digestion. This can be helped by slower ‘diaphragmatic’ breathing – breathing more horizontally rather than vertically. It also ‘massages’ the Vagus nerve – key to a calm, balanced state. a little like locating your inner zen meditator.
People who are generally stress free, or at least don’t hang on to stress, and relaxed ~ will tend more toward this diaphragmatic/lower rib breathing that is slow, gentle, silent, relatively un- noticeable and THROUGH THE NOSE.
You can become that kind of breather!! It’s not about big, deep breathing either. Much has to do with releasing & strengthening your diaphragm.
For now, experiment with this:
Place your hands on your side lower ribs. Take a deeper breath in and blow it out fully, but gently through your mouth until your lungs feel empty. Try that 2 or 3 times.
Now breathe in between your hands, feeling some expansion in the (particularly lower) rib cage; sideways and perhaps in all directions like ripples on a pond from a small pebble dropped in. Repeat for 5 or 6 breaths.
Now, release your hands but stay attentive to the same area..
Imagine your spine is a large column of space through the centre of your torso. Let your breath feel as though it comes and goes from there. particularly starting around that lower rib area, and then heading both downward toward the base, and upward (gently) to your heart. Allow your out breath to be longer than your in breath.
Feel your inbreath like a light that expands out to the edges of the column – a little like soft rays of light filtering outward. Relax completely on the out breath, no need to make the exhale happen, just ‘be inside it’.
Continue for as long as you like.