Breathe Healthy Breaths

There are a plethora of expressions about one’s breath. The expression most commonly used is, Don’t Hold Your Breath, which is a caution not to expect anything soon, or maybe never. Other expressions regarding the breath include, catch one’s breath, get one’s breath back, hold one’s breath, out of breath, take (someone’s) breath away, under one’s breath, waste one’s breath, etc.

We seldom pay attention to our breathing–since it is part of the autonomic system, breathing is considered an automatic function that works perfectly well (so we think) without any need to pay attention, along with reflexes and eye blinking. However, our breath control is a key component of emotional control and therefore performance control, as well as physical health.

If you are like the majority of people, the way you breathe is inconsistent and generally shallow. Shallow breathing is a breath that is taken into the top fourth of the lung capacity. Shallow breathing does not bring adequate oxygen for the entire system. Consider then that if one consistently breathes shallow breaths, one is consistently oxygen deprived. An oxygen deprived system will malfunction, including the brain having difficulty retrieving information.

Shallow breathing can precipitate heart palpitations, heart racing, dizziness, fainting, headaches, tension in head, chest pain–often misdiagnosed as a heart attack, inability to think clearly, anxiousness–often misdiagnosed as a panic attack. The lack of oxygen switches on the sympathetic nervous system–the “fight or flight reflex”–which creates tenseness, anxiousness, and irritability. Breathing exercises can improve both your physical and mental health.

The most effective exercise to improve breathing is to take 8 to 10 cycles of slow, deep breathes to improve the function of your lungs and heart, relaxation even when under stressful circumstances and decreases the effects of stress.

Once your lungs are accustomed to receiving air into the bottom three-quarters, you can then practice breathing full breaths each and every time until it becomes ‘automatic.’ However, even though we might think we are breathing effectively all the time, it is important to take intentional deep breaths occasionally. I use intentional deep breathing periodically or when I notice I have ‘run out of steam,’ feel tired sooner than usual or feel tense. It is a welcome relief to notice the difference after taking 8 to 10 cycles of slow, deep breathing.

Learning to breathe effectively can help you function in your daily activities or perform better in sports activities with more stamina, reduce or delay fatigue and enhance your emotional well-being. All of these benefits and more are documented from research.

Remember it is important to improve your breathing as a part of taking good care of yourself–Mind, Body and Spirit.