Not only do people breathe to survive, but to thrive.
When you concentrate on breathing, visualize the respiratory system and exercise it, awareness arises of your power to control intake and release of air.
This cognition must have pushed early humans to use breathing to their advantage. Later on it gave birth to what we call today breathing techniques.
Use breathing to detox
The simplest breathing technique is to breathe well. Don’t stop midway, or third way, when drawing in and releasing air from your lungs.
Since carbon dioxide is a waste product, toxic for the organism in above-normal quantities, it must perforce be taken out of our system. We do that when we breathe out. Otherwise, carbon dioxide will poison the body’s cells. So breathing out correctly helps eliminate these residues.
Also, research has shown that breathing can impact the pH of the blood, which should be slightly more alkaline than acidic. Over-acidity is detrimental to most organs, leading to numerous health issues and premature aging. It is toxic, so balancing your body pH is a form of detoxification.
Because carbon dioxide is a weak acid, when released in the blood as waste, it raises its acidity level. To keep the pH value in balance, the body needs to remove the excess carbon dioxide. One way to do this is through deep breathing or, depending on circumstances, through faster breathing.
Breathe to boost energy levels
Andrew Weil, MD, founder of the Arizona Centre for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, has studied the effects of controlled, conscious breathing on the human mind and body. He proposes some breathing techniques, most based on the ancient Indian practice pranayama. Pranayama literally means regulation of breath and is widely used in yoga.
The Stimulating Breath technique, for example, is aimed at increasing vital energy and alertness. Dr. Weil recommends it as a substitute for coffee whenever you need an energy boost. If you do it right, Dr. Weil claims you may feel as alert and invigorated as after a good workout, although the exercise lasts between 15 and 60 seconds at the longest.
Here is Andrew Weil’s procedure: Breathing Exercise 1 in “Three Breathing Exercises And Techniques”.
This exercise involves the diaphragm a lot. Of the muscles that help our lungs to expand and contract, the diaphragm is the most important.
When we inhale, it contracts to increase the space in the chest cavity so the lungs expand and receive more air. When we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and moves upward into the chest cavity, pressing the lungs to eliminate the carbon dioxide-laden air.
The intercostal muscles between our ribs and abdominal muscles also bring a contribution to the process of breathing.
Reduce stress levels
When our body reacts unconsciously, there still is control from the nervous system, through what is called the autonomous nervous system.
Its sympathetic and parasympathetic components are complementary. While the former typically regulates activities requiring quick, ‘fight-or-flight’ responses, the latter is responsible for the body’s actions when at rest, like digestion.
Deep breaths, as opposed to rapid breathing, stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, getting a person to calm down and relax. Because the ‘fight-or-flight’ responses are blocked, stress levels are reduced.
Deep breathing has been proven to calm the mind and relax the muscles, the cardiac one included. Also, to improve the immune system and even affect the expression of genes.
Deep breathing techniques
Through deep breathing techniques you train the body to cope with stressful situations.
Profound breathing entails a decrease in the release of stress hormones, especially cortisol. This hormone is our body’s main tool that helps us with immediate, ‘fight-or-flight’ responses. Cortisol release is triggered by the sympathetic nervous system.
However, as with anything else, too often or too much is not good. Excessive or repeated release of cortisol leads to elevation of blood pressure, cardiovascular risk, increased blood sugar levels, insulin resistance and weight gain up to obesity.
High levels of cortisol can impact in a negative way the brain, our sleep and digestion, as well as the immune system. Also, cortisol in excess is responsible for an increased appetite and our cravings for high-calorie foods.
A lot of bad things.
Dr. Andrew Weil proposes the ‘4–7–8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise’ as a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system to use when you feel anxious or whenever something upsets you.
He recommends the exercise at least twice a day, but with no more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Only later, if you wish, you can extend the exercise to eight breaths.
If you feel a bit lightheaded when you first breathe like this, Dr. Weil says you should not worry, as it will pass.
Well, it is up to you to check whether this exercise works for you. I haven’t yet.
So, to improve your life’s quality, you may try and customize various breathing techniques to suit personal needs. Turn breathing manipulation into a multipurpose tool: to detox, boost energy and relieve stress.
Now, a deep breath to your health!