Every system in the body relies on oxygen. From cognition to digestion, effective breathing can not only provide you with a greater sense of mental clarity, it can also help you sleep better, digest food more efficiently, improve your body’s immune response, and reduce stress levels.
It is not called “The Breath of Life” for nothing. One of the most basic functions of the human body, breathing not only fuels the body with oxygen, it can also clear a foggy mind and help strengthen the muscles. Yet few people learn how to breathe in a way that allows the body to function the way it should.
The Process of Breathing
Before you can understand proper breathing techniques, it is important to know a little about how your body breathes.
When you breathe in, or inhale, the muscle on the bottom of your rib cage, called your diaphragm, contracts and moves downward. This allows the lungs to have room to expand. The muscles between your ribs contract to pull your rib cage upward and outward. As your lungs expand, air is sucked in through your nose and mouth and travels down your trachea to your lungs. After passing through your bronchial tubes, the air finally reaches the air sacs where oxygen is passed into the blood stream. At the same time, carbon dioxide travels into the air sacs from the blood stream and is expelled from the body as you exhale. On average, this process is repeated between 17,000-30,000 a day, every day for as long as a person is alive.
A Better Way to Breathe
Since the are so many systems at play with each and every breath, it is important to allow all of these coordinating processes to work they way they should.
1. Great Posture
Sitting up straight allows the lungs to expand quickly and efficiently with every breath. Likewise, sitting up straight helps air to travel into the lungs and carbon dioxide to travel out of the lungs unimpeded. If you are sitting at your desk and feel foggy or otherwise uninspired, take a moment to reposition your body with a straight back to notice an immediate improvement at how well oxygen is reaching your bloodstream and thereby your brain.
While many people focus on completely inhaling in order to improve their breathing, most people only exhale 70 percent of the carbon dioxide in their lungs. Try, instead to push all of the air out of your lungs as though you are blowing bubbles. Not only will your body reward you with instant energy, you will notice how much more efficient you are in filling your lungs.
The Breath & Health Connection
Every system in the body relies on oxygen. From cognition to digestion, effective breathing can not only provide you with a greater sense of mental clarity, it can also help you sleep better, digest food more efficiently, improve your body’s immune response, and reduce stress levels. Many people who practice yoga, or breath control, have been shown to regulate the sympathetic nervous system, or the part of the body that controls breathing, heart rate and blood pressure.
Take a deep breath
Though it may feel unnatural to breathe deeply, the practice comes with various benefits. Deep breaths are more efficient: they allow your body to fully exchange incoming oxygen with outgoing carbon dioxide. They have also been shown to slow the heartbeat, lower or stabilize blood pressure and lower stress.
To experience deep breathing, find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Breathe slowly and deeply through your nose, causing your stomach to rise and expand. Exhale fully.
“Breathing deep for a minute isn’t going to improve your lung capacity,” Hoyt said. “But deep breathing is a good way to reduce stress and relax.”