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Breathing for Perfect Health
Did you know that how you breathe could affect your health? It's true. It can also affect the success of your exercise program, your mood, blood pressure, even your quality of life. Consider this: As nursing infants we were born to inspire and expire through the nose. Prior to this, back in the comforting watery environment of the womb, mouth breathing wasn't an option (Douillard, 2001, p. 147). How did we learn then to breathe through our mouth? Frankly, stress. When blood pressure rises, we involuntarily open our mouths to obtain large gulps of air. This stimulates the "fight or flight" response and we begin to panic. Is there a better way to breathe for perfect health, you ask? Read on to discover the answer.
The Two Forms of Breathing:
Before we discuss how you can learn to breathe more efficiently, it's best to note that there are two ways our body has become accustomed to breathing: in the chest/clavicle area and from the diaphragm. It makes sense that chest breathing is shallow and requires more work to supply oxygen to the body. Chest breathing requires a higher heart rate and when used alone, doesn't efficiently engage the lower lobes of the lungs (where the oxygen is taken into the blood). This is easy to do. And, if we don't know any better we may never graduate beyond shallow breathing.
What's the alternative? Enter the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a flat "parachute" muscle at the bottom of the lungs (Douillard, 2001, p. 148). It contracts as we inspire drawing air into the lower portion of the lungs (more efficiently transferring oxygen to the blood). It's also in the lower lungs where carbon dioxide and other gasses are prepared for release. Give it a try: place your hand on your abdomen just below the ribcage. You should feel the diaphragm shrink as you inhale, expand as you exhale. Now alternate between mouth and nose breathing -- can you tell which one more effectively engages the diaphragm?
While thinking about changing your habits: consider the nose is created for breathing and the mouth for eating (except in extreme circumstances when the airway is obstructed, of course). If nose breathing is efficient, it engages both chest/clavicle and diaphragm involuntarily getting them to work together in a seamless system. The key is to make this happen both during exercise and at rest. Ever felt dizzy? Then you know what it's like not to be breathing effectively. Mouth breathing allows too much oxygen to enter the system. This abundance of oxygen cannot be exchanged with carbon dioxide fast enough causing its build up in the blood. This can cause dizziness, even fainting.
Benefits Of Nose Breathing:
Why is the nose a more effective tool for breathing? Here are just a few benefits:
1.) Nose breathing happens in a controlled environment allowing in only the correct amount of oxygen into the body at one time.
2.) The anatomy of the nose has ridges which create a stream of air perfect for oxygen exchange.
3.) Mucous membranes keep air warm or cold and moist, adapting to the body's temperature in its environment.
4.) Cilia (tiny hairs) clean and filter the air to prevent the body from disease and infection.
5.) New evidence suggests nasal passages produce nitric oxide. This not only kills bacteria and viruses but cancer cells. It is also thought to regulate blood pressure and boost immunity (Douillard, 2001, p. 163).
6.) Nose breathing increases the blood supply to cells; this coordinates the body by improving muscle balance.
As a bonus: Easterners believe that the mind/body connection cycle is completed by the breath. Used as a catalyst in meditation, breath-work is used as a signal to higher consciousness. Easterners also have noted that breathing engages a feeling of euphoria, engaging the chakra at the solar plexus, connecting mind and body. Sounds good? Why not give it a try?
Here are some breathing exercises to help you retrain your body to intake oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide more effectively:
First, take in three maximum breaths inhaling from mouth. Next, take three maximum breaths through the nose and notice the difference. Now, inhale through the nose and exhale only through the nose. As you breathe, contract stomach muscles and increase the size of breath with each inspiration. Breathe until you have reached your lungs' full capacity. Try this both at rest, then practice during your walking or exercise program. If you have a difficult time nasal breathing or want to stimulate an involuntary response, place one drop of Peppermint essential oil into the hands, then touch your upper lip just below the nose.
Douillard, J., Body, Mind, And Sport (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001).
Article by Laura M. Turner:
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