How to Breathe for Better Health

( - Just breathe! At some point we’ve all been told this when we were visibly stressed or excited, and although this advice may sound cliché, it’s actually pretty good advice.  We all know that breathing is crucial for life, but just because we breathe automatically doesn’t mean we are doing it efficiently. We were all born breathing properly, but modern lifestyles (often high in stress and low in physical activity) have made our breathing inefficient compared to prior generations. Proper breathing, however, can greatly enhance our health and well-being.

Efficient Breathing

Modern people tend to breathe through their chest at 15 breaths per minute, using only about one- third of their full lung capacity. On the other hand, breathing through your stomach (also known as diaphragmatic breathing) allows for more oxygen intake at a lower breath rate. Chest breathing usually puts the body in “fight or flight” mode, a state which degrades our health over time. Diaphragmatic breathing maximizes lung capacity and improves functionality in the other organs.

Better Mental Health

The main benefit to breathing properly is relaxation. Breathing deeply (through the diaphragm) increases oxygen flow to the brain and induces calm, which in turn increases physical awareness and aids in concentration.  Health practitioners often recommend deep breathing to counter stress and anxiety, and practicing it regularly helps you to become more emotionally balanced.

Better Physical Health

Studies show that deep breathing also helps to counter a number of physical ailments, such as heartburn, asthma and pain. Physical ailments increase stress levels in people, causing them to breathe in rapid, shallow breaths. Slow, deep and conscious breathing reduces stress, which in turn relieves pain (or at least the perception of it).

Diaphragmatic breathing helps asthma sufferers breathe better. According to the European Respiratory Journal, breathing through the nose rather than the mouth helps to reduce asthma related episodes. Nasal breathing filters the air and regulates the temperature- which is an important function in modern urban environments with high levels of air pollution.

According to the Wall Street Journal, breathing brings other health benefits, such as greater immunity, a healthier heart and increased longevity. Breathing doesn’t promise to cure any ailment, but at the very least, the psychological effects it produces can be an effective treatment in itself. If the mind is at ease, the rest of the body will follow.  Breathing is also a natural detox, helping to expel unwanted toxins from the body as you inhale and exhale.

Deeper Awareness

Many spiritual traditions emphasize the importance of the breath and view it as a pathway to spiritual growth. However you don’t necessarily have to be religious or spiritual to benefit in this manner. In fact, simply observing your own breath for a few moments can be a stepping stone to a deeper experience. By engaging in quiet observation of your breathing pattern, you become more aware of your physical and mental state. In other words, you become grounded in the present moment.  Observing your breath is one of the simplest and most accessible forms of meditation and it doesn’t require any great effort or ability, only a willingness to be still as your breath becomes the object of focus. It may not seem like much, but breathing can be a doorway to greater self awareness. How do you breathe? Is the bulk of your breathing done through your chest? By observing your breathing patterns you can identify bad habits that you may need to work on.

Breathing Techniques

You can practice breathing techniques on your own or you can do it with the aid of an instructor. One of the simplest exercises is to breathe deeply and slowly through your stomach. It is the easiest way to get into the habit of breathing naturally. You can start at ten minutes per day and gradually increase the time frame. Eventually this type of breathing will become natural to you.

Another popular breathing technique is alternate nostril breathing. Breathe slowly and deeply through one nostril (mouth closed) while placing your finger firmly on the other. After a few deep breaths, switch sides. There are many other breathing exercises you can try; just find one that works for you.

Breathing is one of the most accessible forms of natural therapy available (plus it’s free). You won’t suffer from side effects and you don’t need any medication or equipment. You breathe continually anyway, so make the most of it!

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