Stop for a second, and notice your breathing. Is it from your chest or is it from deep within your belly? You might discover you are taking shallow breaths from your chest. So what’s the big deal you may ask? Well…ask someone one who is asthmatic or has COPD. Breathing is life. It’s the thing you need and depend on!
Breathing is the only body function that is both voluntary (you can control its speed and even stop it momentarily), and involuntary (automatic – you don’t have to do anything to make it happen). But typically, we are not taught the proper way to breathe and control this life force. Did you know that a baby does not breathe while it is in the womb? That the mother breathes for the fetus who gets essential oxygen through the umbilical cord? Yes! And the normal rate of breathing is different for a baby (50 or 60 breaths per minute, 30 to 40 for an older baby) than it is for an adult (12 – 16 breaths/minute). You have got to s-l-o-w down and take a deep breath!
When we are anxious, stressed, upset or frightened, our breath is like that of a baby’s – fast and shallow, causing our heart rate to speed up as the brain sends high alert messages for more oxygen. Yet to no avail. This is stressful to the body and causes wear and tear on the blood vessels. At these times, we tend to think irrationally and often re-act or overreact leading to behaviors of regret, rather than pro-actively strategize.
How often have we heard that? Well, there is much truth to this simple statement and those who practice eastern disciplines such as yoga and meditation focus on breathing, and with good reason. The physiological (body) and psychological (mental) benefits of deep controlled breathing are amazing. It focuses on the diaphragm – (a band or muscle just below the rib cage), which flattens when you breathe in, opening up your abdominal cavity, allowing your lungs to expand and fill with more air while rising when you exhale, pushing out more carbon dioxide from the deflated lungs. When the diaphragm moves, it massages vital organs and improves circulation such as in the stomach, small intestine, liver and pancreas, thereby improving digestion. The upper movement of the diaphragm also massages the heart.
Controlled breathing strengthens and tones your abdominal muscles. Over time, by practicing proper breathing techniques you will improve your posture (bye-bye to slumping). How you breathe have a direct impact on your entire body. Inhale deeply through your nose for a count of five or so, making sure that the abdomen expands (push outward), holding your breath for a moment, and then exhaling completely for a count longer than when you inhaled, pulling your belly button tightly towards your spine. You can do this sitting upright (watch your posture) or laying down.
Breathing detoxifies the body, releases toxins, and strengthens the Immune System. It improves the Nervous System and releases tension and stress, because the brain, spinal cord and nerves work much better when they are nourished by oxygen rich blood. Breathing relaxes both your mind and body, and brings clarity. This often elevates your mood by increasing pleasure- inducing chemicals in the brain, known as endorphins. Endorphins are also great in helping to fight physical pain. Go figure!
Proper breathing makes the heart stronger, and this is significant because the heart and the lungs work together. Blood from the heart goes to the lungs to pick up oxygen to be transported to body tissues. We then exhale carbon dioxide through our nostrils with the help of the lungs. Deep breathing also strengthens your lungs, lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, so that your heart is not working as hard to deliver oxygen to the different parts of your body. Just so you know, lowered blood pressure and heart rate help to prevent strokes and aneurysms in the brain. As you breathe deeply, your lungs become healthier, which is a powerful benefit in preventing most respiratory problems. With increased circulation from a strong heart and lungs, you enjoy increased energy levels and improved stamina.
So, go ahead. Take a deep breath and exhale in a huge sigh of relief! See how good that feels?See some words or phrases that you don't understand? Check out The Dragon's Lexicon.