As an anxiety sufferer, I am always looking for ways to calm my overzealous nervous system. One of the most valuable tools in my staying-calm toolbox is the deep breath. I love it. It makes me feel good and helps to keep my body and mind calm.
Breathing is something most of us rarely think about. Yet how we breathe impacts our entire body, including the cardiovascular, nervous, endocrine, lymph, immune, digestive, and respiratory systems. The fact is, many of us are walking around breathing incorrectly.
As babies we knew how to do it right. Our little infant brains told our little infant bodies to fill our lungs fully and completely by engaging the diaphragm. Have you every watched a baby sleep? Ever notice how his belly rises and falls with each breath? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. That’s what we all should be doing.
Somewhere along the way, most of us ditched the deep belly breath for a more shallow form of breathing, known as chest breathing. Chest breathers are using only one third of their lungs in the breathing process.
Why is this important? I mean, clearly we all achieving the ultimate goal of bringing the oxygen in and pushing the carbon dioxide out. So, why do we need to do anything different than what seems to be working just fine? Because fine isn’t good enough. Your lungs could be doing so much more for you if only you’d put them to good use.
Deep belly breathing carries a whole host of amazing benefits:
Reduces anxiety: Deep breathing oxygenates the brain, which reduces excessive anxiety levels and helps to clear uneasy feelings from the body. It ensure you maintain an optimal balance of incoming oxygen and outgoing carbon dioxide, which in turn slows the heart and reduces blood pressure.
Removes toxins: Deep breathing stimulates the lymphatic system, which is responsible for ridding the body of destructive toxins. Unlike your circulatory system which relies on the heart as its pump, the lymphatic system has no pump. It needs bodily movement to move the toxins around (and out). Breathing is the best pump for the lymphatic system. The act of deep breathing significantly improves the body’s lymph flow, thereby more efficiently dumping toxins.
Gives your immune system a boost: Powered by deep breathing, a well-working lymphatic system also helps ward off disease, as it contains elements of the immune system that are responsible for destroying cancer and other invaders. More, by breathing deeply, you pump more oxygen into your bloodstream, giving your immune system an extra boost.
Relieves tension: When your body is tense, your muscles are tight and your breathing is shallow. By replenishing your body with the oxygen it so desperately desires, the tension you hold in your body subsides.
Helps with chronic pain: By oxygenating the body and relaxing the muscles, feelings of pain often subside. And studies suggest that slower, deeper breathing can reduce the sensation of pain.
Improves digestion: Deep breathing supplies the digestive organs with more oxygen, thereby improving the way your body digests food. It is also believed that deep breathing aids in the absorption of nutrients into the blood stream.
Aids in weight loss: You heard me right: aids in weight loss. Deep breathing creates changes in the nervous system, brain chemistry and hormone levels—all of which have been shown to positively impact weight loss efforts.
Promotes heart health: Amazingly, the simple act of deep breathing can take loads of pressure off the heart by gently pushing blood throughout the system. In other words, when you breathe deeply, your heart doesn’t need to work as hard. Moreover, deep breathing has been shown to reduce blood pressure, which will also make your heart happy.
Helps you breathe: Seems obvious, right? Yes, deep breathing helps you breathe better and here’s why: the simple act of taking a deep breath strengthens your lungs; it, in essence, trains your lungs to improve its own capacity.
So, how do you do it? A few times a day, set aside five to ten minutes to practice some deep breathing exercise. Nothing fancy. Do it while you’re watching TV or waiting in line or lying in bed. Simply breathe in through your nose and fill your belly with air, watching it expand. That’s the key: filling the belly. Then exhale, fully and completely. “Empty out,” as they say in yoga. The more you practice thoughtful deep breathing exercises, the more your body will begin engaging your belly and diaphragm in its regular breathing pattern.
Deep breathing is so simple and its benefits are so profound. I, personally, have found it extremely useful in my everyday life. The moment I feel myself getting exacerbated with something (or someone), I breathe. The moment I feel my heart start to race, I breathe. The moment I feel myself getting upset, I breathe. The moment I step into a doctor’s office, I breathe. The moment I walk out the door into the fresh air, I breathe. The moment I put my head on my pillow, I breathe. Whenever I think of it, I breathe.
Of course we can’t walk around all day long constantly thinking about our breath. But by taking some time out of our day to ensure we’re giving our lungs some love, we are showing the rest of the body that we are committed to its well being.
photo source: freedigitalphotos.net