The Art of Breathing
In western culture, we know that breathing is an integral part of the metabolic process and part of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Most of the processes of ANS are out of our control. However, what we have control over is our breath, which gives us control over the ANS. Oxygen is the main chemical element of life. Oxygen is the inhaled molecule when we breathe in, and carbon dioxide is released when we breathe out. There is a harmonious balance in the body that maintains the perfect acid-base balance in and out of these molecules. This also applies to plants and insects, and many other forms of life. [1-3]
In the eastern system, the ancient Vedic system, breath is known as prana. This life force sustains us and everything in the macrocosm and the microcosm. Prana is equivalent to Chi on Traditional Chinese Medicine .
Breathing can be defined as “an efficient integrative body-mind training for dealing with stress and psychosomatic conditions .” Including breathwork provides stability in the mind and body and leads to emotional resiliency. In clinical treatments for PTSD, motion disorders, phobias, and other stress-related emotional disorders, breathing is widely used [1,2].
Breathing directly affects the brain’s various regions and structures: the cortex, the midbrain, and amygdala, all involved in thinking, feeling, and behavior.
What is Deep Breathing?
Deep breathing, aka diaphragmatic breathing, belly breathing, or abdominal breathing, consists of slow and deep breaths, strengthening your diaphragm.
With proper breathing, the two lungs on either side of the heart expand outward. This allows oxygen to enter. The small sacs, aka alveoli, are wrapped in blood vessels, and the oxygen diffuses into the blood, binding to hemoglobin. Four oxygen molecules can attach to a single red blood cell. Oxygen is then pumped into the heart by the pulmonary artery and is sent to other parts of the body. [1-3]
Breathing imparts a host of benefits: [1-6]
- Reduces stress
- Improves sustained attention
- Decreases cortisol levels
- Promotes health
- Reduced blood pressure
- Increases heart rate variability (HRV)
- Improves lung functions
- Improves cardiorespiratory fitness and muscle strength
- Positively effects sympathovagal balance
- Relaxes you so you can sleep better
- Lowers your heat rate
Although these benefits are widely known, our stressful lives and fast-paced living have altered the breath’s natural rhythm from slow and deep patterns to short and shallow patterns. With shallow breathing, we suffer further complications, such as depleted oxygen to the cells, poor memory, and brain fog. Shallow breathing also leads to faster heart rate, decreased mental performance, and increased heart rate, among many others.
You may have heard the saying that you lose it when working out the muscles if you don’t use it. Something similar happens with the lungs too. When you don’t use the lungs’ full potential, you are signaling your body that it’s not essential. Over time, this leads to the weakening of the respiratory muscles. Besides, shallow breathing can also create tension in the upper body, contributing to poor posture.
Shallow breathing occurs when only the upper part of the chest is used for breathing; this results in quick, shallow breaths that failed to expand the lungs and the belly. This often occurs during a fight or flight reaction. However, today, our fight or flight can be sitting in traffic, getting upset, getting triggered by an event, or having issues with loved ones. Pay close attention to when you were really angry, upset, or feeling anxious to assess your body posture and breathing.
In other words, shallow breathing can also be referred to as chest breathing. This could lead to hyperventilation – rapid breathing.
Slow breathing is also be referred to as bradypnea. Bradypnea simply means that a person takes fewer breaths per minute than usual for his age and activity level. According to experts, breathing rates for an adult, in breaths per minute, are as follows :
- between 12 and 20 is normal
- under 12 is abnormally slow
- over 25 is abnormally fast
If you are taking 12 breaths per minute over 2 minutes, this idicates a slow breath. The average breathing rate differs among individuals and can vary with age and level of activity.
Benefits of Breathing
1. Detoxifies and releases toxins
2. Releases Tension
3. Relaxes the mind/body and brings clarity
4. Alleviates emotional problems
5. Relieves pain.
6. Increases muscle
7. Strengthens the immune system
8. Improves body posture
9. Improves blood quality
10. Boosts Energy levels and Improves Stamina
4-7-8 Breathing Technique
Breathwork is underutilized, and we people and practitioners are just starting to pay to incorporate this into practice. The simple 4-7-8 breathing technique is an adaptation from the ancient yogic tradition pranayama’s. Dr. Andrew Weil, MD, is a big advocate.
- Sit up with a straight spine
- Place the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth behind your upper teeth.
- Close your mouth and breathe in through your nose for a count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale for a count of eight.
This is one cycle of breath. You can start with a minimum of 4 times a day, then build up to 8 or more times a day.
The reason for placing your tongue on the tip of the roof of the mouth is because there are two master meridians in the body – conception/central vessel and governing vessel.
The central vessel travels up the back through bony tissues over the cranium and ends at the mouth’s roof. When you place the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth, the microcosmic circuit completes, allowing the energy to flow. The breathwork not only calms you but also changes your energy and vibration.
- First start paying more attention to how you breathe to increase self awareness.
- Start with simple breath work if you are a beginner. It’s improtant to adjust the posture and learn to breathe properly. Yes, even simpler than 4-7-8. You can start with a free guide – sign up for the newsletter on the bottom of the page.
- When you are comfortable start adding 4-7-8 breath. Watch the video here for more details and visual instructions.