Surprisingly, one of the things that we do the most often is one of the things that we do most incorrectly - breathing. Often, many of us spend our lives taking breaths that are too shallow to provide us with the sufficient health benefits that proper breathing can provide.
Breathing is often overlooked as a key indicator of good health, a good mental and physical state and general wellbeing.
For most, breathing is nothing more than a basic automatic human function. A process that keeps our bodies alive through an input of a steady flow of oxygen and output of carbon dioxide.
However, unlike other bodily functions, such as your heart beating or our stomachs digesting, breathing is a function that we can consciously control.
The way that you breathe can provide an insight into the way that your body is feeling. For example, we gasp when we cry, we hyperventilate when we panic and we breathe deeply when we’re relaxed. It provides a reading into our mental and emotional state.
What happens when we don’t breathe correctly?
Because most of us don’t really pay attention to our breathing and live our daily lives taking shallow, unconscious breaths – we are also mostly unaware of the consequences of poor breathing habits.
Incorrect breathing may result in some crucial adverse effects:
- An imbalanced nervous system – this is because the breath has an instantaneous effect on our central nervous system and is key in maintaining a balanced body.
- Tighter airways because shallow breathing makes it much harder for air to travel from our mouths to our lungs. Consequently, your body would have to work much harder to transport sufficient oxygen levels to your lungs.
- Constricted blood vessels, which may force your heart to work harder and inadvertently cause higher blood pressure.
All of these factors indicate the potential harm we do to our bodies by breathing incorrectly. This is because every single process in the body and all our organs are dependent on oxygen.
Our most work-intensive organs that need oxygen are our brain, our heart and our muscles. Our brain regulates and operates our bodily functions; our heart is always active and beats 100,000 times daily on average, and our muscles are needed for our bodies to be able to move with full form.
Anatomy of breathing
The main muscle used for breathing is your diaphragm, which is the dome-shaped muscle found below your lungs, separating your chest cavity from your abdominal cavity.
As we inhale, our intercostal muscles create space pulling your ribcage upwards and our diaphragm tightens which allows our lungs to expand into space in our chest. Our lungs and blood vessels transport oxygen into our bodies and remove carbon dioxide and our always transports oxygenated air into our lungs.
When we breathe effectively, our breath is steady, deep and controlled, and we should feel relaxed without feeling strain to get air into our lungs. Our breath should be relatively silent.
Our abdomen area should expand and contract with each inhales and exhales. Imagine a baby and how they breathe! (Another common reason that we don’t breathe correctly is that some people are conscious of their bellies looking big!)
Tips for conscious breathing:
- Use an app such as Pranayama. The app is created and recommended by leading doctors to teach your body how to breathe properly and using your lungs to breathe at full capacity. It promotes different music styles to condition your body to breathe according to your wake and sleep cycle.
- Learn good breathing techniques. Babies, for example, naturally breathe diaphragmatically, whereas adults often take shallow breaths. By learning how to take deeper breaths with your diaphragm may help you experience a whole host of health benefits.
- Meditate. Either meditate regularly on your own, or guided meditation with YouTube videos, or apps such as Headspace. Practising can be as simple as taking a few minutes out of each day to focus and be mindful of your breathing without trying to control it. This will also promote mental clarity and reduce stress.
A simple step in being conscious of your breath and practice slow breathing may help to reduce stress and stress-related illnesses. It can help to manage anxiety, promote more energy and just a happier and calmer life in general.