Have you ever really stopped to think about what your breathing does for you? Breathing is the most important function of the body and we tend to take it for granted. All of the other functions of the body rely on our breathing. If our breathing is not optimal, it will also impact those other functions. On the flip side, if we improve our breathing, we are going to positively impact all of the other functions of the body.
No food? We can survive for several weeks.
- we can live without solid food for weeks
- we can live without water for days
- but without oxygen we would die in a few minutes!
Increasing your vitality
Consider another important aspect of breathing…
Oxygen (O2) + Nutrients = Vitality
Fuel for our bodies is made up of a combination of oxygen from the air that we breathe and nutrients from the food that we eat. The two combine together to give us our vitality. If you are not feeling well mentally or physically, a good place to start is to review the quality of the food you are eating and the that way you are breathing. There is likely room for improvement in both.
If you don’t change your breathing but you improve the quality of the foods you eat, for example increasing the amount of organic fruits and vegetables, you should begin to feel more energetic.
If you don’t change the quality of your food but you improve the way you are breathing, for example, longer, slower breathing, you should begin to improve the way you feel.
If you improve both the quality of the food you eat and the way you are breathing you will quickly notice a greater positive impact in your overall energy levels!
I am a yoga therapist, not a nutritionist, so let’s stick with the breathing. I do however, highly recommend that you evaluate the quality of the food you are eating and consider seeing a nutritionist for ideas on how you could improve your eating in a way that is best for you.
The role or function of the diaphragm
As we inhale, or breathe in through our nostrils, the air goes down through the windpipe and into the lungs. Once in the lungs the oxygen is absorbed into the bloodstream and goes on to fuel, heal and nourish every single cell of your body.
Let’s consider an important muscle that is related to the breathing process – the diaphragm muscle. The diaphragm muscle is dome shaped and it is located between the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity.
The role or function of the diaphragm muscle is to pull or draw the air we breathe in deep down into the lower part of the lungs. In general, the lungs are in the shape of triangles with the larger part of the triangles at the bottom of the lungs.
If the diaphragm muscle is “tight” it impairs its ability to work properly. Do you know if your diaphragm muscle is tight? Likely, you have never put much thought into this muscle. If your breathing is shallow, or if you often have feelings of anxiety including breathing very quickly, or have a feeling of not getting enough oxygen, almost like you can’t breathe, these are signs that the diaphragm muscle is tight – in other words not very flexible. Thus, causing the shallow breathing.
It’s important for the diaphragm muscle to be flexible so it can do its job of drawing the air deeper into the lungs – ultimately filling the lungs with oxygen on each inhale and fully releasing carbon dioxide and other gases on each exhale. Through the process of inhalation, the air goes down through the windpipe and into the upper part of the lungs. The air just hangs out at the top of the lungs without the diaphragm drawing the air down. Remember the top of the lungs are the smaller part. If the diaphragm muscle is tight, we are likely breathing shallowly and we are only taking in about 25% of our lung capacity. This means we bring in less oxygen or less fuel for our bodies.
Oxygen fuels our brain
The brain alone uses 20% of the oxygen we breath in. Can you begin to see if we are not breathing properly how it can negatively impact other functions of the body?
There are many other benefits of proper breathing including:
- helping to regulate the autonomic nervous system
- creating a pumping mechanism for the lymphatic system
- calming the racing thoughts associated with anxiety
Create your own internal massage
Another benefit of proper breathing is the creation of an internal massage. Consider the major organs in proximity to the diaphragm. The lungs and the heart are positioned above the diaphragm and the liver, stomach, spleen, kidneys, and other abdominal organs are located beneath the diaphragm.
As we inhale, the diaphragm, when working properly, draws downward, pulling the air into the bottom of the lungs. In the process of moving downward the diaphragm displaces the abdominal organs which are squishy. The abdominal organs need some place to go so they push outward on the abdominal wall. This is why your belly seems to get larger on the inhale. When you exhale the diaphragm moves back upwards and the abdominal organs go back into place.
This up and down motion is giving an internal massage to the organs above and below the diaphragm. This is so good for the health of the organs keeping the fluids within the organs fresh and flowing.
Watch a newborn breathe
If you ever have the chance to see a newborn breathing you will notice that they are breathing in their belly. Belly or diaphragmatic breathing is the proper breathing for human beings. As we get older, busier, and often wear tighter clothing our breathing pattern can change without us even realizing it. I have had clients who were following a “reverse” breathing pattern and experiencing anxiety as it was causing shallow breathing. Once they were aware of how they were breathing they were able to quickly change to a longer, slower, deeper breathing pattern. The anxiety disappeared!
Assess your own breathing pattern
I have created an online course for you to increase the awareness of your own breathing pattern and learn and practice specific yoga breathing techniques which will allow you to improve your physical and mental health. It’s not just for people with anxiety. “How to Manage Anxiety Using Yoga Breathing Practices” is also for people experiencing stress, depression or just want to learn more about the transformational power of yoga breathing. It’s easy and you can get started right away with a breathing assessment personalized for you!