Perhaps at first, this appears to be a given. We are surrounded by air. But if you consider that most people breathe shallowly, only using the upper 1/3 of their lung capacity, you can start to see that not all breaths are equal.
We’ve all heard of oxygen and know that it is required for our cells. But their is more to it than that. The lungs are also a primary organ of elimination; they allow us to get rid of waste products of metabolism, most specifically CO2. The whole circulatory system is geared toward this transportation and ultimate exchange of oxygen and CO2 in the lungs. If you are working to lose weight, where does that weight go, where do those carbon atoms which made up the fat go? The fat molecules (which are made of carbons and hydrogens) get converted to CO2 while you exercise and then you must breathe it out. By only breathing shallowly, the ability of the lungs to do their job of gas exchange is dramatically diminished. All parts of the body will suffer from less oxygen and build up of CO2.
Furthermore, the kidneys and intestines are impacted by proper diaphragmatic breathing. The diaphragm is the thin muscle that creates a dome shape at the bottom of the rib cage. When the diaphragm moves down, as it does with a deep breath, the kidneys and intestines move with it. This gentle, cyclic motion helps keep proper digestive motility as well as helps continue to fully circulate blood and lymph throughout the organs.
Also, consider that we don’t just need “air” but we need clean air. We need air that is not contaminated with toxic fumes, chemicals or microbes. For many of us, smog may be simply an aesthetic nuisance, but for those who have asthma, allergies, or are chemically sensitive, air quality becomes a serious consideration. All the more reason to strive for a clean environment, frequent trips out into nature and the indoor cultivation of air cleaning houseplants.
Deep breathing also has a calming effect on the nervous system and can be a great way to combat the stress of modern life. This will be discussed more when we talk about stress and emotions in a few more posts, but by activating the vagus nerve, deep breaths can help move the body out of the “fight or flight” stress response and into a healing relaxed state.
How to do Belly Breaths:
- Easiest to do this while lying down until you get the hang of it.
- Relax and put one hand on your belly and one handon your chest.
- Inhale and send the breath deep into your belly; try to keep your chest still.
- Use your hands as cues to inform you which part of your body is moving.
- Don’t force extra deep stressful breathing, just keep the breaths slow and comfortable.
- If you find yourself becoming dizzy or lightheaded, back off and resume your regular breathing until it passes, then try again.
Goal: 100 conscious belly breaths each day. Let your mind focus on the breath and the sensations of breathing. Do them all at once, or split them up through out the day, or do 5 at every red light. Any way to get them in; just do them.
Next up, we will discuss water and its role as a foundation of health.