We breathe automatically, with our lungs using only a fraction of their capability. We breathe, living in cities full of contamination, taking in toxins as we live day by day without taking advantage of open spaces with clean air. We breathe, forgetting that our very breath is what can make the difference between health and illness.
How We Breathe is How We Feel
How we breathe influences almost everything having to do with how we feel. It can mean the difference between feeling dull or alert, sluggish or energetic. How we breathe influences our ability to be present in the moment.
Our depth of breathing or the lack thereof influences our cells’ ability to become oxygenated; our respiratory, circulatory, digestive, and hormonal systems to be balanced; and our ability to deal with stress and hypertension.
Breathing to Oxy-fy and Detoxify
With every breath we take we have the ability to detoxify our body. Through deep inhalation we bring a greater supply of oxygen to each cell, which then travels through the blood stream to nurture our brain, muscles, organs, and skin. With every deep inhalation, our diaphragm and abdominal muscles expand to massage the heart and other organs in order to improve our circulation and strengthen our system in general.
When we take a deep, slow breath our diaphragm moves down to create more room in the chest cavity for air to circulate. At the same time the external ‘inter-costal muscles,’ which lie between the ribs to help move the chest, expand the ribcage to create space for oxygen. Taking a deep, slow breath through the nostrils, throat, larynx, and trachea into the lungs, we are activating a power that is the key to health.
Whether we breathe unconsciously, allowing the autonomic system to do its work, or consciously, where we control the rhythm in order to make the most of our lung capacity, the incoming air passes through tiny sacs in the lungs called alveoli. Here there is an exchange of carbon dioxide and blood, where the lungs receive the blood through the pulmonary arteries, passing through arterioles and into alveolar capillaries. The process allows oxygen and carbon and dioxide to be exchanged whereby the oxygen is pumped into the red blood cells by the pulmonary action of the heart to revitalize the body and the carbon dioxide is released into the air through exhalation.
When we exhale, our diaphragm and inter-costal muscles relax to allow air to release out of our lungs, cleansing them and readying them for healing oxygen in the inhale. Exhalation is a powerful form of detoxification as metabolic waste in the form of carbon dioxide passes from the bloodstream into the lungs and then out of the body.
Autonomic breathing is breathing without thinking, with our brain sending messages to our respiratory muscles to create natural, unconscious inhalation and exhalation. Our breathing patterns fluctuate according to our various activities, such as when we are exercising. During exercise carbon dioxide levels increase, which triggers a signal to the brain to increase the velocity and the depth of our breathing patterns. The same thing happens when we encounter stress. The brain’s reaction is to speed up the breathing rate to handle the increase in toxins created by tension.
Conscious breathing is where we control the intake, retention, and exhalation of the breath. There are many practices that use controlled breathing to help slow down the heart rate, diminish stress, improve immune function, enhance mental acuity, and vitalize the body and brain in general. The basic premise of conscious breathing is that each breath should be a complete breath, which means that it fills the lower, middle, and upper regions of the lungs.There are many types of conscious breathing exercises that can be used to strengthen, purify, and focus the body, mind, and spirit.
Deep, Slow Breathing
One of the most effective breathing exercises that brings immediate relief to stress while improving immune function, oxygen intake, and detoxification is a deep, slow inhalation, counting a slow four. Retaining the breath for another four counts allows air to fully circulate throughout the lungs, chest, and brain. Then the exhalation to a slow count of six permits a deep cleansing as toxins are released. Pause for two counts and repeat. As your lungs gain strength, you can breathe to a six, six, eight count and then eight, eight, and ten on the release.
Slow and conscious breathing helps to regulate the autonomic system by slowing down processes that may have accelerated due to a variety of conditions or stimuli. One way you can make sure you are getting the most from deep breathing is to place your hands along the sides of your rib cage as you inhale, feeling the area expand laterally. Then when you exhale, place your hand just above your navel to feel the belly push out as it expels air.
Conscious Breathing for Asthma and Hyperventilation
People with asthma have found great relieve through conscious breathing. Asthma, which in Greek means to pant, produces symptoms such as shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, wheezing, coughing, and a sense of choking. This condition occurs as an involuntary response to a variety of triggers like allergies, tension, and strong emotional reactions. An asthmatic reaction creates a very limited airflow in the body, which then contracts the smooth muscle lining in the airways lining the lungs, making it hard for oxygen to get through. By doing deep breathing exercises, the lungs are able to relax and permit oxygen to circulate. By the same token, people suffering from hyperventilation, which often causes gasping and a sensation of choking, can find almost immediate relief from deep, conscious breathing.
Developing the Habit of Breathing Consciously
Developing the habit of conscious breathing everyday, even if just for a few minutes, can help you stay calm and centered as you balance your mind, body, and soul. As time goes by you will feel a greater sense of being grounded, anchored, and in the present moment, able to handle situations with equanimity. As time goes by you will also notice improvement in your health and stamina, as each cell in your body becomes renewed through the increase in oxygen. As time goes by, you will wonder at the power of something as simple as breathing.