Breathing: What you did and DIDN’T know!
Breathing is essential for life. All living organisms breathe in one way or another. It is called respiration, and if you are reading this now you are likely doing it, if not you won’t be reading for long. You have always done it, whether you were a child and willed yourself not to in-order to get what you wanted, eventually your body took over and you began to do so again. You have been breathing since you were born and you will until your time has come, but have you been doing it right?
Breathing is not just vital to support life, it is extremely powerful when done well to facilitate health in all aspects of one’s life. It is used as a form of meditation in many practices to facilitate mindfulness, it can be used to control levels of stress in the deepest levels of the nervous system, to modulate the experience of pain, and optimize human function.
To help understand this, lets take a moment to recognize what happens in the absences of healthy breathing. I’m sure you have seen someone who is suffering from a breathing condition, asthma, COPD, pneumonia, pulmonary fibrosis, the list goes on, what does their daily activity look like, what types of things do they have difficulty with? For someone suffering from one of these ailments, getting out of bed, walking to the kitchen or bathroom, are extremely taxing and sometimes impossible.
So if breathing is so important, and breathing well can optimize your health, wellness, and performance, how do you do it? What is it actually doing for you? And how do you make sure you are doing it all the time?
Believe it or not almost all of us are born breathing properly! Have you ever heard the saying, babies are belly breathers? They aren’t actually breathing with their belly, they are using their diaphragm, a muscle at the bottom of the rib cage that is also attached to the spine. When they pull air in, or inhale, the diaphragm pulls down pushing the stomach contents out. As we age and life continues to throw stress at us from all aspects of our lives, we begin to change how we breathe in response. Stress activates our sympathetic nervous system, our fight or flight (or freeze) system, which stimulates the use of accessory muscles including the chest, neck and shoulders. Do you seem to carry tension there? I bet your breathing doesn’t help!
Now let’s be clear, our stress is not being chased by a bear, or the guy from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it is much more mild than that, but it never seems to go away. In just one day the average person breathes 20,000 times, enough to make stressed breathing a habit. This habit or “motor pattern” becomes our default setting for breathing and is not only the result of stress, but drives stress as well becoming a never-ending positive feedback loop. When the subconscious mind is always stressed, it spills over into your conscious mind, affecting your relationships, your road rage, your work performance, your life!
So how do we change it?!
We breathe with intention, we practice it, 5 minutes at a time, 10 minutes at a time or even 3 or 1 minute “snacks” throughout the day. Start the easiest way, start when you are done reading this!
Begin by laying on your back in a comfortable position, set a time for 5 minutes, dim the lights or close your eyes. Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest, gently place your tongue on the roof of your mouth and breathe in through your nose making your belly rise before your chest. Focus on your breath, the sensation of the air entering your nostrils, cooling your throat. Exhale by relaxing and letting all of your air seap out of your mouth, only focusing on your inhale and exhale, experiencing each part of your breath. When your mind gets distracted, cause it will (after like 5 seconds), bring your attention back to your breath, do it for the full 5 minutes.
Feel your stress melt away even if it is just for a brief period to allow your nervous system to reset and recharge. As you become more experienced you will find it easier to do, at your desk, sitting at a traffic light, little bits throughout the day, until one day it is just how you breathe.
Once this becomes a tool in your toolbox, you will find that you feel stressed less often, are more open to those around you and overall more mindful. You may notice you neck stiffness and shoulder pain dissipate, your health, wellness and overall performance improve.
Check back for more short blogs and tips to help optimize your health! And feel free to share, comment, or message me with any topics or ideas you would like to learn more about! Thanks for reading! Go Breathe!