We never go a minute without breathing, yet few of us actually breathe properly and in a manner which allows us to receive a full spectrum of amazing health benefits, some of which can improve our mood and contribute to our longevity.
Benefits of breathing
- Helps detoxify the body: 70% of the body’s toxins are released through breathing
- Assists digestion: deep breathing massages the intestines and assists the passage of contents. It also aids circulation and oxygen supply to these tissues helping them function more effectively
- Releases tension: exhalation is often accompanied by relaxation of contracted muscles
- Relaxes the mind, body and brings clarity: oxygenation of the brain reduces anxiety levels and eases ‘foggy headedness’
- Relieves pain: studies show that deep and slow breaths work on dampening the effects of the sympathetic nervous system which resultantly increases tolerance to pain
- Increases muscle: controlled breathing strengthens and tones your abdominal muscles as well as providing more oxygen to the tissues to help them strengthen and grow
- Improves posture: good breathing techniques over a sustained period of time will encourage good posture. Bad body posture will result of incorrect breathing so this is such an important process by getting your posture right from early on and you will see great benefits.
- Improves the nervous system: the brain, spinal cord and nerves receive increased oxygenation and are more nourished. This improves the health of the whole body, since the nervous system communicates to all parts of the body.
- Makes the heart stronger: breathing exercises reduce the workload on the heart in two ways. Firstly, deep breathing leads to more efficient lungs, which means more oxygen, is brought into contact with blood sent to the lungs by the heart. So, the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to deliver oxygen to the tissues. Secondly, deep breathing leads to a greater pressure differential in the lungs, which leads to an increase in the circulation, thus resting the heart a little.
- Assists in weight control: if you are overweight, the extra oxygen burns up the excess fat more efficiently. If you are underweight, the extra oxygen feeds the starving tissues and glands.
- Boosts energy levels and improves stamina: the tissues have more oxygen required to produce energy.
- Elevates moods: breathing lifts moods by inducing neurochemicals in the brain to elevate mood and combat physical pain
How posture affects your ability to breathe
Due to the largely sedentary nature of today’s lifestyle, many people resultantly end up spending large amounts of time slouching in their chairs. This results in compression of the diaphragm, which is a horizontal muscle spanning across your abdomen dividing your lungs from your stomach and intestines. The main role of the diaphragm is to draw air into the lungs by contracting and shifting pressure– this allows one to take a deep full breaths. When a muscle is shortened it cannot contract effectively, hence one cannot take full deep breaths, this results in most individual’s taking shallow breaths. This is a problem as humans have more blood vessels and more blood in the lower lobes of their lungs, which allows for greater transfer of oxygen into the bloodstream. As a result most people limit themselves by not only reducing their lung capacity but also their capacity for effective transfer of oxygen into the bloodstream.
How osteopathy can help
Your friendly osteopath can help by reducing the tension of muscles and increase mobility of the joints of the rib cage to enable you to take deeper breaths. This is particularly useful for asthmatics or those with breathing difficulties and respiratory conditions. Osteopaths can also teach you are variety of exercises to keep your primary respiratory muscles strong and relaxed and your rib cage mobile and free.
Simple breathing exercise
- Sit or stand up straight, relaxing any tension from the shoulders, neck or rib cage.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose for 4-5 seconds drawing your breathe deep into your abdomen then let the air fill up and expand your chest cage
- Hold your breathe for 4 seconds
- Exhale slowly for 4 seconds through the mouth.
- Continue breathing consciously for the next 5 minutes.
How to incorporate conscious breathing into your life
Your day is full of hours spent patiently or impatiently waiting. This is often the best time to practice your breathing exercises as it takes little effort to practice and it can help calm any restless feelings and make you feel more proactive in your day to day activities.
Perfect times to practice deep breathing include time:
- Spent at the traffic lights
- During the add break of your favourite TV series
- Whilst waiting for the train/tram
- Waiting for an internet page to download
- Before getting out of bed or going to sleep
- Waiting for an appointment
- Waiting for the bathroom.
So efficiently use this ‘wasted’ time as an opportunity to give your health and energy levels a boost!