Breathing is an essential function for our human body where the air we breathe in helps to deliver needed oxygen to our muscles by using the blood to transfer it to the working muscles of the body. Carbon dioxide is also transferred from the blood to the lungs and is exhaled. These two processes are called gas exchange and when interrupted, can cause dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, depression, and panic attacks. Shallow breathing can be the cause of this issue which is why you should take nice big breaths to fill the lungs. Practice deep breathing and do breathing exercises to use and expand your diaphragm to help facilitate good gas exchange. Some common causes of shallow breathing include conditions such as being overweight or obese, sleep apnea, and too little physical activity.
Our brain controls the breathing rate by sensing your body’s need for oxygen and it’s need to eliminate the carbon dioxide. Our lungs are made from springy and elastic tissue that expands in the chest to draw air into your lungs. The brain signals through nerves to the diaphragm and other muscles in the chest cavity to expand up and out which draws air into the lungs. In the lungs, there is a left and right side which are made up of smaller pathways and are divided by up 15-25 times and finally into thousands of smaller airways into the air sacs. The blood has a protein called hemoglobin that carries oxygen and carbon dioxide around your body.
One of the common mistakes that we make is breathing too much (shallow breathing) through our mouth (not our nose). When you breathe through the mouth you will lose moisture, irritate the lungs, and increase your risk of respiratory infection. Common conditions linked to breathing through the mouth are bad breath, sleep apnea, and other health conditions.
Shallow breathing is when we take short breathes which allows the buildup of carbon dioxide in the body which can be toxic and reduce the functional capacity of many of the body’s systems and can cause disease.
Using the nose as the primary airway filters the air, warms up the air and helps us take deeper breaths for more oxygen and raises the intake of nitric oxide which causes vasodilation – opening of the blood vessels which increases circulation. Immune function, weight, mood, and sexual function are influenced by nitric oxide.
As we move more through work and/or increased physical activity (exercise) our breathing can increase up to 40-60 times a minute to adjust to the increased demand for oxygen and the elimination of carbon dioxide in the blood. These efforts improve the lung capacity and efficiency and increase your oxygen saturation by 20%.
Learning how to breathe properly is a key function of optimizing our body’s ability to move oxygen around the body, relieve stress, and reduce the aging process.
Here are some action steps to help you get the most out of your breathing. Breathe more through your nose taking deep breaths by inhaling on a count of four and release for the same count. Too many people exhale too fast. As you breath, your belly should expand not contract inward.
- Work on your posture to improve the amount of air that can be inhaled into the lungs. Deep breathes are essential to maximizing the air which is inhaled and exhaled. Having rounded shoulders and a forward head lean can cause the chest muscles to tighten reducing their function and reduce the amount of air capacity. Stand and sit up straight with relaxed shoulders. If you are tight, which most of us are, then loosen the area by performing some arm swings forward ten times, then backward ten times, then stand in a door frame with arms extended and lean forward stretching the chest area and contract the mid-back muscle to help facilitate the stretch even further while strengthening the mid-back.
- Perform breathing exercises daily to help the body practice the correct technique and to foster a sense of calm which can also reduce stress and anxiety levels and can also reduce blood pressure and heart rate. Deep breathing is the basis for all mindfulness and meditation practices. If you have congestion, use some eucalyptus oil by placing it just below the nose and above the lip. Try the following breathing exercises:
- Alternating Nostril Breathing – Sitting in good posture, preferably outdoors, close your mouth, place your right thumb on your right nostril closing it off, inhale through the left nostril until full, hold for a moment while taking thumb off the right nostril, then place your left index and middle fingers on the left nostril closing it off and slowly exhaling through the right nostril until you cannot exhale anymore and pause for a moment, then inhale through the right nostril keeping the left side closed until full, hold, then, place the right thumb again on the right nostril, then exhale again as this completes the cycle. Repeat several times and see how your body feels. Close your eyes during this exercise and visualize the air flowing into the lungs and being exhaled from the lungs through the nose. This practice can help you train your breathing and balancing the energy in your body.
- Left Nostril Breathing is associated with cooling and calming the human body. Being in a comfortable seated position with back straight and shoulders relaxed. Close your right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through the left nostril. Then, close the left nostril with your left index and middle finger and exhale through the right nostril. Repeat 10-20 times
- Right Nostril Breathing is associated with warming and energizing the body. In the same comfortable position in good posture and relaxed shoulders, close your left nostril with your left index and middle finger and inhale through the right nostril. Then, close the right nostril with your right thumb and exhale from the left nostril
- Belly Breathing is when we engage the diaphragm through breathing. Begin on your back and place one of your palms on your belly. As you inhale, your belly should expand, and when you exhale it should contract. As you get a rhythm do for ten times. As you get good with it you can sit and do it and then stand to do it.
- Perform daily physical activity and exercise to improve your lung and heart function. It is recommended that you get at least 30 minutes of additional physical activity over and above your work activity for health benefits. Moving to 45 to 60 minutes will help improve your fitness and reduce your risk of health issues even further. For weight loss, it is recommended to perform 60-90 minutes of activity. All these times are accumulative where you can break up into several sessions per day.
Breathing is an essential function and is often overlooked as preventive and healthy activity that can be trained. Practice these activities and you will feel a difference in your energy, alertness, and overall health.