New research is coming forward everyday to support the importance of oxygen and correct breathing. This is also known as deep abdominal breathing. Proper breathing can improve:
- organ function
- enhance neural activity
- improve respiratory and cardiovascular function
- decrease the effects of stress
- improve physical and mental health
Oxygen is one of the most important elements required to sustain life. Without it our health begins to suffer and/or we die. Unhealthy or weak cells due to improper metabolism lose their natural immunity. They are then susceptible to viruses that can lead the way to all kinds of serious health problems. Correct breathing literally fends of further illness.
We all do it on average 20,000 times a day - but are we doing it properly?
While most of us never give breathing a second thought, we now know the way you draw breathe can affect your physical and mental wellbeing.
Shallow vs Deep Breathing
Many of us are breathing shallow without noticing it. Only using part of our lungs (filling only the chest), can be due to our lifestyle, stress and fear.
Babies instinctively breathe into the belly filling the abdomen naturally and that is the correct way to breathe. Take a minute to watch young children when they are asleep to see how their stomach rises and falls rather than their chest. The stress of life and getting older can trigger the “fight or flight” response. As a result we develop changes in the way we breathe. This means we take short sharp breathes to help prepare for the 'fight' we may have to face.
Oxygen and CO2
However prolonged periods of this stressed response means we develop new habits. As a result we constantly breathe like this, only ever using the top third of our lungs, as if we were permanently hyperventilating. This leads to poor exchange of oxygen and CO2 in the bloodstream, depriving our bodies of a vital ingredient for life.
The physiological effect of a lack of CO2 can make you feel 'spaced out' and can lead to:
- panic attacks
- extreme fatigue
Further a lack of oxygen can rob your organs and muscles of a proper blood flow. There are many ways to increase the level of oxygen in your bloodstream, some medical and some simply habitual. Exercise and posture are simple and effective methods of attaining elevated oxygen levels into the bloodstream.
Aerobic exercise opens the pathways in the body that deliver oxygen to your cells. We also suggest exercises that incorporate and focus on correct breathing such as Yoga, Chi Gong and Meditation.
Something as simple as correct posture can help allow more oxygen into your bloodstream. Standing straight, with your shoulders rolled back keeps the airways open, allowing for a deeper breathe.
Breathing correctly means that our bodies are being supplied with the right amount of oxygen. This replenishing our brain and other vital organs with essential nutrients it needs to function optimally. If you are not breathing correctly, your body can be robbed of oxygen leading to a host of different conditions. Your skin can suffer as it is not receiving enough fresh oxygenated blood. Muscles can also tire easily during a workout as they are not getting the right amount of oxygen. Finally, you can feel constantly tired and lethargic because there is not enough vital nutrients being carried in the blood.
Your brain only makes up approximately 3% of your total body mass. However it consumes more than 20% of the total oxygen used in the body. The brains consumption of the oxygen sees a noticeable increase during mental activities and sustained concentration. Oxygen is essentially fuel for the brain.
Every function in your body is controlled by the brain which is almost hard to fathom given that the brain is possibly the most intelligent piece of machinery on the planet and it is at your disposal. To give you an idea of the kind of damage that the lack of oxygen can have on your life and health, it is important to remember everything your brain controls:
Thoughts, Memory, Attention, Balance, Posture, Bladder Function, Muscle Function, Emotions, Heart Rate, Blood Pressure, Digestion, the list is endless for both conscious and subconscious behaviours and functions.
Which means if your bloodstream isn’t carrying enough oxygen to your brain and your brain is unable to function at an optimal level, the potential for the body to have problems is essentially limitless!
To breathe properly, you need to use your diaphragm, the large sheet-like muscle that lies at the bottom of the chest cavity.
- First locate your diaphragm, lie on your back on the floor or if needed these steps can be followed in a comfortable seated position.
- Place one hand on your upper chest (above the breast plate) and the other on your abdomen (between the belly button and rib cage).
- When you breathe in only the hand on the abdomen should rise and fall to capacity and the hand over the chest remain fairly still only slightly rising at the end.
- If the chest is rising you are breathing shallow and not using your diaphragm. You will need to slow it down and imagine when breathing out you are pulling the belly towards the spine, breathing in fill the belly like a balloon.
- Once you have found your rhythm try it from different body positions, seated and standing.
- Throughout the day bring your attention to your breathe and notice how you are breathing in different situations, when you are relaxed and when you are stressed then simply start proper abdominal breathing. You will find this very helpful and soothing in stressful situations.
- Slow rhythmic breathing will help regulate the flow of oxygen and CO2 and slow the heart rate easing anxiety and ensuring your circulation is carrying the optimum amount of nutrients around the body.
- One in-breathe and one out-breathe are one cycle.
- Inhale nostrils, exhale mouth and sigh releasing tension. (It helps to say AAAAHHHHHH as you breathe out for relaxation and tension relief).
- Now try to slow your breathing down to eight to ten cycles per minute without breathing from your upper chest area. Aim to breathe deeply and rhythmically (It could help to count to 10 on the in-breathe and 10 on the out-breathe) slowly increase the time with each session.
- Try on the exhale to push just a little bit more air out to make room for new oxygen and then imagine filling the bottom of the belly and lunges. (Almost as if your lungs are a glass and you are filing it with water, you always start at the bottom and work your way up).
- To begin with your chest may rise up, but with practice you will become calmer and it will flow more naturally.
- Bring abdominal breathing into physical exercise by regulating your breathing. You will help boost your performance during aerobic exercise because your muscles are getting the oxygen they need.
- Mindfully control your breathe while taking a walk, start slow with the focus on breathing and not elevating the heart rate.
- Take in the scenery as you go and bring your awareness to the breathe and breathing in the beautiful fresh air.
- Stand tall with your shoulders back and down.
- Make it part of your day to day activities, in the kitchen, while driving, hanging out the washing or reading a book.