Why Conscious Breathing is a Big Deal
I notice irregular breathing patterns in patients so frequently that I’m no longer surprised when I see it. Breathing is such an interesting and often misunderstood and underestimated thing. I think the reason is that it’s something we all do constantly, it doesn’t cost money, and we can be totally unaware of it. The more I learn and the more experts I speak with, the more apparent it becomes that controlling our breathing has profound effects on our health and performance. I am excited about this blog because I’m going to talk about how breathing affects the body and how we can use it for our benefit.
It’s safe to say that most of us experience stress in our fast-paced world. Stress can be from not having enough time for rest and recreation, being too busy, or experiencing strain in the areas of finances, careers, relationships, etc. So what does stress have to do with respiration? More than you think. When we are stressed we tend to breathe more from the chest, so our breathing itself can be shallow, rapid, and often lacking consistency. When under stress, people also breathe irregularly, including holding their breath for surprisingly long periods of time.
How Breathing Affects Health
From research we know that the effects of being in a chronically stressed state have negative and wide-reaching repercussions of our health and performance: blood pressure and heart rate are elevated, the autonomic nerves, responsible for unconscious functions (like sweating) and certain hormones (like adrenaline), get revved up, and even our mood can change. We don’t have to be victims to stress though, because there are things we can do to reverse these damaging effects. I suspect you probably already realize that breathing is one of the best ways to do this.
Breathing into your abdomen activates the diaphragm muscle more. As the diaphragm contracts, it pushes downwards on abdominal organs. This measurably moves abdominal organs, effectively massaging them. This type of respiration also increases oxygen levels in the blood and stabilizes the autonomic nervous system, allowing hormones, mood , and control of unconscious body activities like blood pressure to rebalance.
Assess Your Respiration
When I stop for a moment during the day to monitor my breathing I often find that I’m holding my breath or that I’m breathing shallowly mostly with my chest. A good way to assess your breathing is to place a hand on your abdomen and feel if it expands as you inhale and contracts as you exhale. Usually if I’m not breathing properly I feel tension in my body that dissipates as I consciously breathe.
Conscious breathing isn’t complicated but it may take a while to get good at it and remember to do it. I recommend at least twice a day checking in with yourself and practicing conscious respiration until you feel calm and centered. This might just be one to three complete breaths but you may want to do more. I encourage this practice especially in times of stress, like before a job interview an important presentation or a big game.
To do it, simply breathe in through your nose slowly and smoothly, gently filling up your chest and abdomen. You can do this anytime and anywhere; nobody has to be aware you’re doing it. Focus on breathing deeply and expanding you core and abdomen outward. Exhale slowly, and smoothly, taking slightly longer than your inhalation. Focus on feeling your body as this happens and the sensation of oxygen passing in and out of your lungs. Try it now.
Good luck and I hope you find it as helpful as I do 🙂
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