Does breathing ever cross your mind? Most people hardly ever think about it, as it is an “automatic” activity that takes care of itself. It may be true that your body will take another breath automatically, but how can your awareness of your breathing benefit you? How does your breath affect other aspects of your health?
Many of your health concerns may be related to how you breathe. After all, it is the mechanism that provides every cell in your body with life-giving oxygen. When your ability to breathe properly is compromised, you can expect some physical problems to develop.
In spite of the fact that breathing is an automatic function of the body, many people don’t breathe as nature intended. Often the cause is stress or tension. Such influences in our lives can become habit, leading the “automatic” process of breathing to be done improperly.
One of the most common habits is shallow breathing—breathing that focuses in the upper lungs and uses the muscles in the neck and upper chest area. In their book Breathe In, Breathe Out, authors Drs. Loehr and Migdow state, “Research has shown that slowing down and deepening our breath shifts us from the stress response to the relaxation response; this slows the heart, normalizes blood pressure, increases blood flow to the digestive system, deepens sleep, increases energy, focus, concentration, and memory—optimal breathing not only helps prevent or cure disease, it raises performance levels in school and sports.” That’s a pretty good list of benefits for just making sure that you’re breathing properly!
Why does abdominal (deep) breathing provide you with all these health advantages? Due to gravity, the lower portion of your lungs has a higher rate of blood flow. So your lungs and heart don’t have to work as hard and your circulatory system profits from this efficient means of oxygenating the blood. Deep, slow breathing is shown to release endorphins (the body’s natural pain suppressors) that bring about a feeling of relaxation and general well-being—a benefit you also get from massage.
As you incorporate better breathing into your life-style, try to do what you can to get as much fresh air as possible. In today’s society, with so many forms of air pollution, this can be a challenge. Your body will benefit from your efforts!