It seems like a silly concept: how can we possibly need to be reminded to breathe when it’s a natural process we need to do to actually live?
But the truth is, while we obviously breathe enough to feed our bodies, we don’t necessarily breathe properly enough to nourish it. We breathe shallowly into the chest instead of deeply into the belly, essentially hyperventilating. It’s kind of like the difference between grabbing a quick junk food snack, and enjoying a healthy nutritious meal.
Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP, co-founder of the Women to Women Clinic and Personal Program, has noticed this habit among a surprising number of her patients. She says those who breathe improperly end up with too much carbon dioxide in their blood, which leads to mental fog, fatigue and decreased tissue function. It also causes constriction of the lungs and chest over time, which further reduces the flow of oxygen to tissues.
On the other hand, rhythmic deep breathing expands the diaphragm and lungs, triggers the relaxation response, and massages the lymphatic system. Pick even goes so far as to say that deep breathing brings us many of the benefits of exercise, including weight loss.
Anyone who practices meditation or yoga will likely support the benefits of honoring the breath. A standard Bikram Yoga pose is called Standing Deep Breathing. It’s always done as the first in a series of 26 postures, because it warms up the body to ready it for the rest of the sequence. It also promotes mental relaxation, increased circulation, detoxification, healthy sleep, and normal blood pressure.
Yes, simple proper deep breathing can accomplish all that.
In fact, Richard Brown, M.D. and Patricia Gerbarg, M.D. have done numerous studies over the past decade. Their overriding conclusion is that yoga-inspired deep-breathing techniques are effective for treating anxiety, depression, stress-related disorders, eating disorders, and other psychological issues. Sometimes the breathing alone is enough to have an impact, while other times it can complement conventional medicine.
If you want to tap into these benefits while connecting with your breath, relaxing and de-stressing, there are a few deep-breathing exercises you can do. Matthew McKay, Ph.D., Martha Davis, Ph.D., and Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, LCSW, co-authors of The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, recommend deep breathing for 10 minutes, twice a day.
I know, 20 minutes seems like a lot, but I always say better something than nothing; so even if you can only give it five minutes, you’re sure to benefit. In fact, I just finished doing five minutes myself, and now I feel revived and able to think more clearly.
Their first exercise, for Complete Natural Breathing, is pretty simple:
1. Sit or stand with good posture.
2. Breathe through your nose.
3. Inhale, filling first the lower part of your lungs then the middle part, then the upper part.
4. Hold your breath for a few seconds.
5. Exhale slowly. Relax your abdomen and chest.
If you have more time to dedicate, or want to explore deeper, you can sit or lie down, and add some meditation and Breathing Awareness to the exercise: scan your body for tension, pay attention to your breathing, place your hands on your chest and abdomen, and notice the sensations. Inhale through your nose, and exhale through your mouth, keeping your jaw and tongue relaxed. Focus on the sound and feeling of your long, slow, deep breaths.
Deep breathing is probably the simplest, yet most profound, health boost you can give your body. So take a deep breath… relax, and rejuvenate.
Yoga on Venice Beach © Lululemon Athletica
Yoga in Malaysia © Lululemon Athletica