We all have a life-time of experience in this most basic of functions – breathing. We do it automatically and without thinking – our bodies do it for us. Breathing is one of the fundamentals of being alive. That is the WHAT of it.
But what may never have occurred to us is the HOW, and the HOW is crucial.
Just recently there has been some publicity, two fabulous books and a lot of interest in how we breathe. It seems that not many of us breathe in a helpful way.
I have done some yogic breathing in my time, some meditative practices that focus on the breath and once learned an amazing morning practice that includes a lot of breathing and snorting out through the nose. I regard myself as a good breather.
But having read these two books and followed some of the techniques outlined along with some great online videos I have discovered that I have a way to go to reach the place of not panicking when I hold my breath (holding it in or holding it out!).
These are the three things that have stood out as important if we are to have optimal health, good posture and great breathing.
ONE: BREATHE THROUGH THE NOSE
This is important. The nose not only acts as a filter for airborne impurities, nasal breathing also stimulates the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is the body’s own natural defence against viruses (think of Covid!!). Nasal breathing in the day AND at night defends us from snoring, sleep apnoea and inflammation. Inflammation is seen as one of the main causes of illness and disease and disruptive conditions and any defence will be a good thing.
If you add humming to nasal breathing it is even better – 5 minutes a day!
TWO: DEEPER BREATHING
Deep breathing includes not just a deep breath in to oxygenate the body, it also includes a deep breath out. It exercises the diaphragm while movement of the diaphragm, in its central position in the body, also exercises the internal organs, the backbone and the muscles of the torso.
A good breath in will expand the chest, then the abdomen while a good deep breath out empties the abdomen of air, followed by the chest. Try it – it feels good – and doing this several times a day will help your overall wellbeing.
THREE: SLOW THE RATE OF BREATHING
When we add slowing the rate of our breathing to nose breathing and deeper breathing we increase the rate of oxygen absorption in the body. The ideal is apparently 6 breaths per minute (5.5 seconds inhale and 5.5 seconds exhale to be precise). But the good news is that starting at 12 breaths per minute can help with reducing anxiety and depression. Do this for several breaths, whenever you think of it during the day.
The benefits of better breathing are huge, more than I have outlined above.
Two brilliant books:
James Nestor: ‘Breath’ Penguin 2021
Patrick Mckeown: The Breathing Cure’ OxyAT 2021
And look up breathing on the internet – there are fabulous videos and programmes. And breathing is free and available to us all!!