Chances are you go through your day with no awareness of your breathing. After all, it happens automatically and as long as it doesn’t stop (for too long), you don’t pay much attention to it. Unfortunately, the presence of dysfunctional breathing is all too common and can be associated with a variety of health conditions that weaken vitality and negatively impact quality of life. Additionally, there are a wide array of symptoms that can result from improper breathing, ranging from fatigue, headaches, and poor concentration to anxiety and even intensified perceptions of pain.
Bringing awareness to your breathing can enhance your health and well-being in profound and unexpected ways. Here are just a few benefits that you can expect from giving due respect to this essential bodily function:
Increase Energy: The cells utilize oxygen to produce energy that fuels every single function in the body. And where does oxygen come from? The air that we breathe, of course! Our lungs form the interface between the exchange of oxygen in and carbon dioxide out of the body.
In dysfunctional breathing, this delicate swap of gases becomes inefficient and the resulting imbalance leads to poor oxygen availability for the cells. Without the necessary fuel for energy, your cells (and you) become deprived of energy. By correcting breathing dysfunction, you can optimize oxygen and CO2 balance in the blood, thus supporting energy production.
Calm the nerves: Your breathing influences the activation of stress and relaxation responses. From an evolution point-of-view, this makes sense! If you think back to the last time you were frightened, you may recall that you ‘gasped’ or held your breath. This reaction, in turn, speeds up the heart, heightens the senses, and gets you ready to “fight or run” from danger.
So what happens when you frequently hold your breath throughout the day? Unfortunately, the same stress response happens whether danger is present or not. The fight-or-flight drive gets turned up, which leads to the same physical response, including heightened senses, hyper-vigilance, and anxiety. Become aware of pauses in your breath and by practicing a fluid, seamless breathing rhythm, you can restore balance and harmony to your nervous system.
Here’s a simple exercise to balance your breathing rhythm at home. Start with bringing awareness to your current way of breathing. Pay close attention to any hesitations in the rhythm and take note of specific qualities, i.e. deep, shallow, tightness, relaxed, etc... Next, slowly inhale in a relaxed manner to a count of 5 seconds, and without pausing, exhale to the same count of 5 seconds. Practice this throughout the day until your breathing becomes slow, fluid, and free from disruptions. Over time and with practice, you can easily achieve the benefits of optimal breathing that will enhance your health and promote your well-being.
- By Jason Culp, Naturopathic Doctor at Chiva-Som.