At this stage in our lives, we should all be pretty damn good at breathing. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in the vast majority of us. Is breathing just a simple case of oxygen in and oxygen out? Modern research and ancient wisdom claims that correct breathing can bring a whole host of health benefits.
What are these health benefits? How can we alter our breathing? Let’s find out.
How important is breathing correctly?
Think firstly about the physiological effects of quick breathing and slow breathing. Fast shallow breaths are associated with panic, fear and anxiety. Long deep breaths are associated with relaxation and sleep. In fact, when you exhale, the Vagus nerve in your body slows down your heart rate.
Often times, the advice for people in stressful situations is to stop and breathe. This advice is from the acceptance that your stress levels can be manipulated by your breath. There is a study that shows this here.
To think of it simply, a psychological or physiological stimulus has an effect on your breathing. If you are attacked in a street, your breathing changes. If you are sat in the arms of a loved one in a state of relaxation, your breathing changes. The logical reverse of this has now been scientifically proven, your mental and physical state can be effected by your breathing alone.
So how important is correctly understanding the mechanics of breathing? Your mood, body and health can all be effected.
What about bigger physiological effects?
So it is fairly easy to be convinced that regulated breathing can impact psychological health, but what about physical health? Are there any studies that show that breathing has a deeper impact?
On the frontiers of science, new studies are showing that through specific breathing exercises, the sympathetic nervous system can be manipulated. This study here shows that we can physically control our adrenaline output. This was previously thought to be impossible, or only in the realm of strange looking yogis in India. This research is only going to grow in the following few years, but it is a very good indication that being mindful about your breathing can bring much more significant changes to your body than reduced anxiety.
What about athletes?
All athletes will generally practice slightly better breathing than a sedentary person since their bodies are regularly forced to take long deep breathes during exertion. However, there are studies that show practicing deep breathing can improve sports performance by a significant factor. This study on cyclists concludes that a discernible effect is clearly seen in trained athletes after breathe training.
The potential benefits could be researched and written about for hours, but let’s talk more practically, what exactly do you need to practice to begin reaping the benefits of your breath?
How should we practice?
There are hundreds of different breathing methods that have shown good results in improving mental and physical health. All of them focus on one or two main points, let’s dissect these then put them into practice.
The common theme in all breathe exercises includes the ability to breathe deeply. This is also called diaphragmatic breathing. To know if you are doing it properly, keep your attention on your stomach when you breathe. As a baby breathes, their stomach rises and falls with every breath. As neurotic adults, many of us tend to keep our breath high up in our chests. This small change will immediately trigger physical sensations including a more relaxed mind.
This should be practiced and become your normal breathing pattern. A trick is to just be mindful several times per day about it. Whenever you have a spare moment, quickly inspect in your body how you are breathing. Remind yourself to breathe from your stomach, if you keep this mindful practice up then eventually you should alter your breathing patterns positively.
Feel the breath coming from deep in your body, make this a habit you live with daily.
The Wim Hof method
Also known as “The Iceman”, Wim Hof is responsible for breaking crazy world records but beyond that, he has a method of breathing that has been shown to control adrenal response, body alkalinity and whole host of other impossible sounding things. This method is gaining popularity everywhere, and the science backing it is solid. Check it out here:
This ancient Hindu practice is now being looked at seriously by us neurotic westerners. This is just one of many practices that you can try. It is essentially the idea of breathing in and out slowly with pauses. Check out an instruction here:
Take Away Points
Breathing correctly is potentially life changing. Instead of just taking it for granted, it will serve you well to experiment, be mindful and see where your breathing can take you. Science is showing us more and more evidence to attest to the power of your breath, so by making sure you take control of this area of your life your mental and physical well-being will improve dramatically.