Breath is the essence of life and is one of the body’s functions that happen automatically. Without it, you wouldn’t be reading this.
Considering it is a given that we breathe doesn’t mean we are masters at it! Shallow breathing is something most of us do without knowing it as we have ‘mastered’ the art of breathing when we were born, and it hasn’t failed us. It is not something we do consciously, we just do it.
Nose breathing is important for the health of our lungs:
- Inhaled breath is moistened in the nostrils
- The little hairs in the nostrils help to remove air borne particles
- As air travels from the nostrils to the lungs, it is warmed to our body temperature
What if I were to tell you that how we breathe is important! As we take deep and slow breaths our health benefits! Most people breathe at a rate of 12 to 18 breaths a minute. Conscious, slow and deep breathing means you can achieve between 4 and 6 breaths a minute. By doing this, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in.
The parasympathetic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that stimulates ‘rest-and-digest’ or ‘feed and breed’ activities when the body is relaxed. The heart rate is slower, and the intestines and bladder function better for elimination and sexual arousal happens. This means we relax, digest our food and our hormones flow in a balanced way.
Lungs take most of the space in the chest cavity and when we are slumped at our desk or on the couch, they are compressed which means the lungs have a reduced space to expand when we breathe in. Ideally, we stand and sit upright so that every breath can reach all areas in the lungs.
Depending on our state of mind, our breathing can change from short and brief in and out breaths when we are stressed or worried to deeper ones when we dance, run or sing. In the first instance, the sympathetic nervous system is activated whilst in the second one, as we have a good time, the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged.
Breathing deeply improves the function of the lymphatic system. When this more active, elimination of waste, such as excessive fluid, dead cells, toxins, etc. is more effective. It is like sweeping the floor, you get rid of materials that clog up the system. Removing the waste, allows all other body functions to function at an optimal level.
When stressed, cortisol production increases, it is also known as the stress hormone. Regular or constant high levels of this hormone is detrimental to our health.
The sympathetic nervous system is activated by stress and promotes the fight and flight response which may include the freeze response where our body shuts down. This allowed our forebears to run for their lives when threatened by wildlife.
All bodily functions that are necessary to flee receive an increase of energy and blood flow. The heart rate increases, the lungs and all muscles are stimulated so they work harder and longer helping us to run for our lives. There is no time to empty the bowel, bladder or enjoy sex so these functions stop all together.
A short burst of stress can be useful as this may improve our focus and concentration as we have an exam, an interview, etc. To decrease these stress levels, breathe deeply and the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged so that you can continue the interview with a smile.
Slow and deep breathing improves the level of oxygen in the blood. This has a direct impact on our quality of life and overall longevity. As we breathe in, the heart rate increases slightly and stimulates the flow of oxygen-rich blood. This is the fuel for all cells, providing energy so they can carry on with essential functions for maintain healthy organs and tissues.
The brain uses a lot of oxygen, much more than muscles do. Breathing deeply improves the supply of oxygen-rich blood to all brain cells and this improves our thinking and focus, and, we feel better.
With lots of oxygen in the blood, we not only are more relaxed, but we sleep better, our wounds heal better and faster and our metabolism is also faster.