Breathing, some say, is a lost art. It’s a tool that humans have been harnessing for thousands of years to improve vitality and longevity, yet within modern society, we have completely forgotten how to do it properly. As a result, our poor breathing mechanics (among other things) have locked our bodies into a state of stress, which has led to an uptick in chronic illness and mental health issues. With that being said, this blog will aim to explore the impacts of poor breathing mechanics, how good breathing will boost your health and performance, plus give a crash course in how you can reconnect to your breath right now!
Why is it so important to understand our breathing, when we already do it anyway?
This is a question that you’re probably already asking yourself, and it makes sense… regardless of what we’re doing or where we are, we’re going to be breathing anyway. But what we don’t realize is that most of us who lead busy, chaotic lives have actually adapted to become shallow breathers. Because of a number of environmental and behavioural expectations, modern society has adapted to breathe through our mouth into our chest, which results in limited air reaching our lungs and poor oxygenation of the blood. As this occurs, our sympathetic nervous system is stimulated (the ‘fight or flight’ system in the body) and it has been found that our bodies fall into a ‘cyclic state of stress’. Over time, our bodies get used to this chronic state of stress and our threshold to be able to respond to different stressful stimuli becomes much lower… meaning that we are much more susceptible to ‘acute illnesses, aggravating pre-existing medical conditions and prolonging healing times’. Not only that but this ‘cyclic state of stress’ is also a key driver in anxiety/panic attacks and can cause a multitude of other issues related to chronic tension build-up in our bodies!
So how do we avoid this state of stress and kick the habit of shallow breathing?
Believe it or not, it’s as simple as taking a few deep breaths! We call it ‘diaphragmatic’ breathing, and it is the first step in reconnecting you to your breath kicking your body back into gear. How does it do this? Basically, through higher levels of oxygenation and better breathing mechanics, our parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated (the ‘rest and digest’ system in our body’), which lowers your blood pressure, reduces your heart rate, relaxes your muscles and deregulates your ‘fight or flight’ system, putting you in an absolute state of calm! It’s because of this that controlled, diaphragmatic breathing is the main tool that people use to tap into a state of mindfulness, which is the next key player in managing and reducing stress (and a topic we will discuss in a follow-up post later on). So with all that being said and a better understanding of why we need to improve our breathing, let’s run through a quick crash course in how you can get started with your own breath training!
- Lie on the floor or in a supported seat with one hand on your stomach
- Breathe in through nose & direct air through your stomach into your hand
- Inhale with a count of 2, hold for 3, exhale for 4
- Complete 10 times
Once you are completely comfortable doing this, aim to increase the time of inhaling, hold and exhale incrementally (about 1 second at a time) until you reach capacity. Also, make sure you are set up in a comfortable position while doing this exercise, and monitor how you’re feeling throughout (if you’re getting light-headed, dizzy or nauseous – have a break, as you’ve probably pushed yourself too hard). You can practice deep breathing at any time throughout your day or whenever you feel tense or stressed, whether you’re sitting at your work desk, lying in bed or watching television. There’s also NO limit to how regularly you do it, as the more you do, the more you will be ingraining these good habits and pathways into your neural network… meaning that before long, you’ll be breathing properly without even having to think about it.
So go and get breathing!