The Three Ways Better Breathing Helps You
Breathing may not seem like a particularly interesting topic, but it’s actually pretty cool. Did you know that we breathe 20,000-30,000 times per day? If you live 85 years, that’s a whopping 700 million+ breaths. It’s a good thing we don’t have to think about breathing. That would be a lot of work!
But here’s what’s cool…
Breathing is controlled by the autonomic nervous system so we don’t have to remember to do it. Yet we also have the ability to easily control the breath. Try that with kidney function!
A question you might have is, why would we want to control our breathing?
The simple answer is that, by paying attention to your breathing, you can improve it. Here are three ways better breathing helps you.
1. Stress management
Back in cave woman/man days, they frequently had to fight for food or run fast to not be something else’s food. The fight/flight response causes the eye to dilate, blood to move to the arms and legs, the heart beat goes way up, digestion is turned off, and breathing is through the mouth which provides short bursts of energy.
This response was an important survival mechanism. It’s still hard wired into our brains and it can come in handy, even today. However, we live in a much more civilized society now. Fortunately, we don’t have to fight or flight all that often.
In our modern lives, the stress response can easily get turned on when we experience road rage, an angry boss, kids that won’t behave, etc. But then we forget to turn it off. We become chronically stressed because our stress response is chronically turned on. Not good!
People who are chronically stressed often are mouth breathers. Breathing through the mouth draws oxygen into the body quickly. It’s a short, chest breath and it can feel like panting. The heart takes its cue from the breath and pumps faster, so we get high blood pressure. On the other hand, nose breathing slows the mind, takes longer, and is a much deeper breath than mouth/chest breathing.
Breath awareness is a powerful tool for calming the fight/flight response. By noticing our breathing, we can direct the breath in and out through the nose, which feels calming to the brain. You can’t be stressed while breathing slowly and methodically through the nose. Can you? Next time you’re feeling stressed, take 5 long, slow deep breaths through your nose and see if it helps. I guarantee it will.
One of the most important parts of a yoga practice called pranayama, which translates to ‘breath control’. The word prana by itself means life force or energy. The ancient yogis believed that, by controlling your breathing, you can increase your life force or energy. This ancient perspective certainly makes perfect sense. If you’re not breathing, well then you’re not alive. you’ll have.
The best athletes are able to get more air into their lungs which creates more energy for their sport. You and I should do the same. Imagine having a habit of breathing more deeply all the time. What if you took in just a bit more oxygen with each of your 700 million breaths. You’ll take in a lot more oxygen to heal, rejuvenate, and energize your mind and body.
3. You won’t die as fast
This third way that better breathing helps you sounds morbid, and that’s exactly right! There’s a great line in my all-time favorite movie, The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living or get busy dying”. I’m changing that quote slightly for our purposes: “Get busy breathing deeply or get busy dying.
Breathing is an exercise. In my fitness classes I tell my students over and over again to exercise their breathing muscles. If you don’t practice deep breathing, over the course of 7, 8, or 9 decades, you will lose your ability to breathe deeply. Breathing muscles atrophy like any other muscle. If you don’t use them you will lose them.
People who no longer can breathe deeply breathe through their mouths to get an adequate amount of air into their lungs. This creates a stress response, which makes the heart beat faster, blood pressure goes up, and all these negative health issues start building up, which eventually results in the end of us.
If you think I’m being too dramatic, well I don’ know, maybe you’re right. All I know is I have no intention of having short breathing when I’m 90. If you feel the same way, then let’s agree to practice breathing deeply every one of our days ahead. That means today!
IMPROVE YOUR BREATHING
The obvious question is, how do we exercise our breathing muscles? Read this list of steps and then try it.
Lie on the floor on your back
Move your arms away from your sides
Move your legs away from each other
Turn your palms up
Draw your shoulder blades toward each other
Breathe in through your nose and let your belly expand at the same time
Breathe out through your nose and let your belly draw back in toward your spine
On the inhale, breathe in to a 3 count, taking in as much air as possible
Hold your inhale for 3 counts
Exhale your breath, letting out every bit of your air, to a 6 count
Repeat 30 times
In this exercise your exhales are twice as long as your inhales, which creates a calming effect.
You should feel your ribs expanding with the volume of air you’re bringing into your lungs.
It’s one thing to do a focused exercise. But practice breathing more deeply throughout your day.
Posture dramatically affects your ability to breathe deeply. Maintain tall posture for deeper breathing. I’ll have a lot more information for you on posture in future articles. Posture is one of my favorite fitness topics!
Practice this technique once a day. You’ll find that you start creating a habit of breathing deeper even when you’re not thinking about.