Breathing is one of the most essential activities we undertake as human beings. It accompanies us in every aspect of our lives and enables our survival. From the moment we are born, we take our first breath, and from then on, we continue to breathe in and out without even thinking about it. But have you ever stopped to consider the way you breathe? Most of us take shallow breaths or even hold our breath unconsciously.
Unfortunately, we often spend our lives breathing in constricted or sub-optimal ways, usually as a stress response. The problem is, when we breathe shallowly, we deprive ourselves of the oxygen our bodies need to function properly. Our muscles become tense, and our brains become foggy. Over time, this can lead to a variety of health issues, including chronic stress, anxiety, and even depression.
Sometimes this begins in childhood if we experienced serious trauma or were raised in a stressful environment. Children who grow up in abusive homes, for example, may learn to hold their breath or breathe shallowly to avoid drawing attention to themselves. But even if we didn't experience trauma as children, the stresses of daily life can cause us to develop poor breathing habits. The good news is that we can learn to breathe better at any age.
Breathing exercises have been used for centuries in practices like yoga to help calm the mind and reduce stress. The ancient Greeks believed breath to be a vital component of life and survival. But there's more to breathing than just calming the mind.
From yoga philosophy, we learn that prana is the life force energy that flows through the body, and pranayama practices aim to regulate and control the flow of prana through the breath. Breath training is purported to activate and balance our energy centers or chakras corresponding to different aspects of our being. And there's evidence to support this, as some of the main chakra positions bear a close resemblance to the autonomic nervous system.
Breath training is an essential tool for building resilience - the ability to adapt and cope with stress, adversity, and change. By regulating our breath, we can activate the body's relaxation response and counteract the stress response. Slow, deep breathing can lower heart rate and blood pressure, decrease muscle tension, and increase feelings of calm and relaxation.
If you're looking to improve your breathing, there are many techniques you can try. One popular method is the 4-7-8 breathing exercise, where you inhale for four counts, hold your breath for seven, and exhale for eight counts. Another technique is called Maximal Expansive Breathing, which involves taking deep, slow breaths to expand the lungs to their maximum capacity to improve lung capacity, increase oxygenation, and reduce stress and anxiety. However, it's important to note that individuals with certain medical conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), may need to modify this technique to avoid overexertion or discomfort.
By following a regular breath practice, like the Breath Flow (Maximal Expansive Breathing technique) below, you can build your resilience and improve your overall well-being:
Functional Anatomy Seminars - Maximal Expansive Breathing