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The Power & Benefits of Breathing

Written by

Deborah Freudenmann BHSc

Breathing is one of the most critical aspects of our physical and mental well-being. In fact, it is the proof of our existence. 

We don’t realize that breathing is much more than just a sign of being alive. We almost take the breathing process for granted as it happens automatically and involuntarily without any need for us to contribute to it consciously.

“The art of breath awareness is mindfulness in action, bringing us promptly back into the present moment: the moment in which all magic and transformation happens; the only moment we have. The past is gone and our future is not guaranteed. We must breathe our breath of life, right now.” – Meredith Gaston

There is a need for you to understand this meaningful process at a greater depth and learn how the science of breathing can rejuvenate you from within.

Focusing on your breathing could be one of the effective ways to improve your health and prevent diseases. It may also support your recovery when you are undergoing treatment for an illness.

How does focusing on your breathing improve your health?

Reduces inflammation

Research studies have shown that focusing on your breathings can improve the functions of the immune system and regulate the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines like TNF-alpha (tumor necrosis factors- alpha) and interleukins-6 by the immune cell.
It may also lead to an increase in the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines like interleukins-10.

This suggests that improving your breathing processes could slow down or inhibit the development or progress of diseases linked to inflammation such as diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and arthritis. 

Improves cognitive functions

Focusing on slow, deep breathing would calm your mind and increase your attention span. It would also enhance the cognitive functions of the brain such as memory, concentration power, and focus.
Slow and conscious breathing can help you focus on the tasks you are performing at the present moment by improving your awareness of time and space and thus, increase your productivity at school, workplace, and home.

Enhances lung functions

Deep breathing exercises can help to maintain healthy levels of oxygen in the body while also expanding your lung capacity. This would be specifically important during the winter season and even for older populations who tend to be more susceptible to develop pneumonia and other lung diseases. 

Supports heart functions

Taking deep breaths is necessary for ensuring enough oxygen reaches deeper into the tissues of the lungs where they can be absorbed into the blood vessels to be carried to the heart and then, to all the other organs of the body.
Taking deep breaths causes the heart to be pulled down. This process can optimize the body’s ability to pump fluids and nutrients into the heart and suck out toxic waste. This marks the importance of focusing on your breaths for improving heart functions.

Regulates blood pressure

Deep breathing can stimulate the vagus nerve that travels from the brain to most vital parts of the body. The vagus nerve also controls the digestion and regeneration of the body’s cells and tissues and influences your blood pressure.
Deep breathing exercises have been found to regulate the activities of this nerve thereby allowing you to maintain normal blood pressure.

Improves mental health

Deep breathing can support the functions of the parasympathetic nervous system, which plays a key role in restoring the balance in your emotional state after a stressful period. Focusing on your breathing would stimulate the vagus nerve, which, in turn, can activate the parasympathetic nervous system that can create a relaxing effect on your mind and body. It is believed to work by reducing the production of the stress hormone called cortisol. This will increase your resilience to stress and anxiety and improve your mental health. It may also support the recovery of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Reduces pain

Not many people know that deep breathing exercises can be beneficial for deriving relief from chronic painful conditions like lumbar spondylosis and arthritis.
Since our diaphragm is attached to the lower part of the spine, its natural rhythmic movements during breathing can result in the stretching of the back allowing more fluids and nutrients to enter the soft tissues such as the intervertebral discs and ligaments.
This would help to slow down spinal degeneration and protect you against the risk of chronic painful diseases that occur due to inflammation, and degenerative changes in the vertebral bodies and intervertebral discs.

How To Optimize Breathing?

Stress can disrupt this natural process. Causing shallow breathing, our heart rate and blood pressure rise, our breathing quickens, our muscles tighten, and all nonessential functions, like digestion, become inactive.

Your breath is the link between mind and body.

Oxygenating our cells and really “breathing” into our bodies helps us to function beautifully, just as we were designed to do. By routinely elongating our in and out breaths in a smooth and even rhythm we can learn to relax and let go, changing our biology and our lives.

What do I do?

Whenever I notice myself getting stressed whether that’s on my desk, sitting in my car or out on a walk where my brain is a million miles away. I stop and I start taking deep breathes in and out. That’s when I first realise how shallow I’d been breathing prior… it feels great to fill the lungs! There is no right or wrong timing, find the right rhythm that works for you – it might be counting to four or ten!

Here are some videos that can help you optimize your breathing! 

Conclusion

After learning these benefits of focusing on your breathing, it comes as no surprise why some of the ancient lifestyles and physical exercises like yoga, meditation, and qui-gong were focused on breathing.

You can practice breathing exercises by simply improving your awareness about the process of inhalation and exhalation to derive the benefits we discussed above. This would help you restore the normal physiological functioning of all the organs and allow you to avoid diseases even during older age.

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5561407/
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22319896/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5709795/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6189422/
https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Mind-Body-Practices-for-Posttraumatic-Stress-Kim-Schneider/a3158b5f6759f3a28bb6273151430146612afc6b?p2df

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