How to breathe your way to good health
Considering breathing is our body’s most important function and one that is automatic, it’s surprising that most of us don’t do it 'right'. The good news is, learning to breathe properly is relatively simple and the health benefits are many.
Osteopath Dr Lauren Woodman explains correct breathing helps detoxify the body (saying 70 percent of the body’s toxins are released through breathing), assists digestion by massaging the intestines and releases tension. She adds correct breathing also relieves pain, strengthens and tones your abdominal muscles and provides more oxygen to the tissues, which helps them strengthen and grow. Good breathing techniques over a sustained period of time will also encourage good posture.
The list of benefits doesn’t end there – Dr Woodman says proper breathing improves the nervous system as the brain, spinal cord and nerves receive increased oxygenation and are more nourished. It also builds a stronger heart.
Teaching correct breathing technique is also used by medical professionals, including psychologists, in the treatment of stress and anxiety – short, shallow breaths can cause hyperventilation, which can create feelings of dizziness and panic. Learning to breathe properly can give people with anxiety or panic a technique to help cope and reduce panic or anxiety attacks. Slowing and concentrating on breathing rather than racing thoughts can help create a feeling of calmness.
Other conditions that may be helped with controlled breathing? Asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain, high blood pressure, insomnia and some skin conditions, such as eczema. With such a long list of benefits, you’re probably now keen to learn how to do it properly!
Diaphragmatic breathing is intended to help you use the diaphragm correctly while breathing. It strengthens the diaphragm, decreases the work of breathing by slowing your breathing rate, decrease oxygen demand and uses less effort and energy to breathe.
How to take a deep, healing, diaphragmatic breath:
Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down and start by observing your breath – take a normal breath then try taking a slow, deep breath. The air coming in through your nose should move downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural).
Alternate normal and deep breaths several times. Pay attention to how you feel when you inhale and exhale normally and when you breathe deeply. Shallow breathing often feels tense and constricted, while deep breathing produces relaxation. Now you can focus on practicing diaphragmatic breathing for several minutes:
- Put one hand on your abdomen, just below your belly button.
- Feel your hand rise about an inch each time you inhale and fall about an inch each time you exhale.
- Your chest will rise slightly, too, in concert with your abdomen.
- Remember to relax your belly so that each inhalation expands it fully.
- You may begin with a count of five slow in and out, though you can progress to even slower breathes as you get more practised – the exhale should be the same or longer than the inhale.
Once you’ve taken the steps above, you can move on to regular practice of breath focus. When you first start, 10 minutes of breath focus is a reasonable goal. Gradually add time until your sessions are about 15 to 20 minutes long. Those that regularly practice may find they automatically start to breathe better.
As well as regularly practicing diaphragmatic breathing, paying attention to your posture will help you breathe better. Dr Woodman says a sedentary lifestyle can mean large amounts of time slouched in a chair which results in compression of the diaphragm. She explains the main role of the diaphragm is to draw air into the lungs by contracting and shifting pressure– this allows you to take deep full breaths. When a muscle is shortened it cannot contract effectively, hence one cannot take full deep breaths and this results in most individuals taking shallow breaths.
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This article was written by Melanie Hearse for Kidspot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz