It happens automatically. We inhale, we exhale. We all know it is essential to life but are you doing it correctly? Seems like a strange question, we all know how to breathe don’t we? In actual fact, most of us don’t know how to breathe properly.
If you asked the average person do they deep breathe or shallow breathe, most of them would not know. Breathing is such a natural thing to do, that very little thought goes into how we are doing it.
Test yourself by taking a deep breath and feeling how much of your lungs fill with air. If they are only filled to the middle of your chest, you are shallow breathing. Another way to tell is if your shoulders rise when you take in a deep breath. If you are really deep breathing, your shoulders shouldn’t rise.
By shallow breathing you are cutting down the amount of oxygen supplied to your body by up to 2/3rds, so deep breathing affects all of our body in a positive way. Here are just some of the benefits.
Reduces stress and anxiety … by lowering the levels of stress hormones in your bloodstream. It also slows down your heartbeat and relaxes your muscles, leading to an increased feeling of calm and relaxation.
Improves digestion … by increasing the amount of oxygen delivered to your digestive system which helps it to work more efficiently. Because deep breathing also reduces stress and anxiety, our cortisol levels are lowered. High levels of cortisol impedes digestion. Continued stress can lead to inflammation in the digestive tract and exacerbate inflammatory digestive diseases such as Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis and IBS so by deep breathing the inflammation is reduced.
Increases lung capacity … During shallow breathing you are only using a small amount of your lung capacity. By deep breathing, you are increasing the number of air sacs used to exchange oxygen with carbon dioxide. This in turn increases the supply of oxygen to the body. Deep breathing also strengthens the muscles of the diaphragm which allows easier expulsion of stale air from the lungs, helping to reduce a build up of toxins in the body.
Increases energy levels … By increasing the amount of oxygen available to your body, your energy levels increase as well. Mitochondria are cells throughout your body that generate ATP, the energy currency of cells. The mitochondria rely on oxygen to generate this energy so when we deep breathe, we increase the amount of oxygen available for energy production.
Helps relieve pain … Deep breathing stimulates the release of endorphins which are neurotransmitters that trigger a feeling of wellbeing and decrease our pain sensation.
Lowers blood pressure … When we shallow breathe or hold our breath, blood is diverted to the brain to increase alertness but in doing so it alters the blood chemistry. The blood becomes more acidic which in turn decreases the ability of the kidneys to excrete sodium. The extra sodium causes a rise in blood pressure. In 2002 the American Food and Drug Administration approved a device called the RESPeRATE that helped to lower blood pressure by slowing down breathing. Clinical trials showed that blood pressure dropped by 10-15 points in people who used the device for 15 minutes a day for 8 weeks.
Protects the heart … The diaphragm sits below the lungs and above the abdominal cavity and it is the major muscle of respiration. When you inhale deeply, the lungs expand and push the diaphragm down into the abdominal cavity which helps to gently move large amounts of blood throughout body, taking a lot of pressure off the heart.
Helps detoxify the body … Our lungs play a major role in detoxification. If our lungs are not working to capacity because of continual shallow breathing, the other detoxification organs need to work extra hard to pick up the slack. The toxins that would normally be eliminated by the lungs can then accumulate in the body, causing inflammation and cellular damage.
Reduces acidity … When you shallow breathe, you also don’t exhale fully which causes a build up of carbon dioxide in the blood. This in turn alters the pH of the blood, causing it to become too acidic. The body then compensates by leaching minerals from bones to alkalise the blood. By deep breathing and paying attention to exhaling fully, you can expel more carbon dioxide which will help keep you blood within the correct pH range.
Relieves insomnia … Most of us know the feeling of lying in bed at night, tossing and turning unable to get to sleep. By continually shallow breathing, as has been stated earlier, cortisol levels remain high, so when it is time for sleep your body is wired for “fight or flight” mode rather than sleep mode. Deep breathing lowers cortisol levels so you are ready for a good night’s sleep.
Stimulates the lymphatic system… The lymphatic system is an essential part of the immune and detoxification systems of our body. The lymphatic system drains fluid from bodily tissues and picks up bacteria and other microbes which are then transported to lymph nodes and destroyed by white blood cells. Unlike the heart, the lymphatic system has no pump and relies on muscles to “pump” the lymphatic fluid (known as lymph). The lungs play a big role in enabling the lymph to travel throughout the lymphatic system so by strengthening your lungs by deep breathing you are also helping your lymphatic system.
So, you have tested yourself and have discovered that you are a shallow breather. Click here to learn how to deep breathe. Keep practising. Initially it will feel unnatural, but stick with it and it will become second nature.
By Andrea Southern, Naturopath, Nutritionist, Herbalist Stafford and The Gap in Brisbane. For an appointment phone 0412 791 705