“Breathing is important” may sound quite a trivial statement, something we are all aware of. But are you really sure you know how we breathe? How do we breathe during the day? What happens to our body when we breathe? How do the events in our lives affect our breathing pattern?
Breathing involves various parts of the body. This is something we realize when we have a cold, for instance, and we are forced to breathe with our mouth because our nose is stuffy. The organs involved in respiration are known as airways. Their function is to let the air flow to the lungs. Breathing serves the purposes of bringing in the amount of oxygen the body needs to work, and to work properly, and flushing out the toxic substances our body produces.
A curiosity: did you know that oxygen cannot be stored? This is why it has to be introduced at constant and regular intervals.
What hinders proper breathing?
Breathing is closely connected to our posture. If we spend most of our day in a hunched position, sitting at our computer or in the car, our lungs are compressed and our rib cage cannot expand effectively. The diaphragm, which is a muscle, is thus “compelled” within an unnatural space and it is somehow “forgotten”. As a consequence, breathing occurs in a higher position and it is shallower.
A curiosity: bad breathing habits start in the school years. Forced to sit at our desks and to stay in this fixed position for thousand hours throughout the most sensitive years of our growth, we unconsciously develop very limited breathing patterns.
Excessive abdominal fat hinders the movements of the diaphragm: fat building up around the thoracic cavity prevents its expansion during the breathing process. This condition makes it very hard to breathe, thus causing fatigue to the muscles of respiration and a far greater waste of energy than needed.
When under distress, we feel overloaded at mental, emotional and physical level. Our breath changes in this condition and it becomes shorter and shallower. We tend to breathe with one part of our body only, thus limiting the oxygen intake, which triggers a chain reaction that negatively affects our well-being. When we are afraid or feel a sense of anxiety, we tend to hold our breath. This causes carbon dioxide to build up in our body, which induces distress on the nervous system.
Although the three factors above are likely to lead to incorrect breathing, it is equally true that breathing well can help find a solution. If we breathe correctly, we keep our spine stretched and relaxed and this helps the diaphragm to function well and the thoracic cavity to expand properly. If we breathe correctly, we help our body work properly, we learn how to better control our emotions and to reduce our stress levels.
The key to healthy respiration is slow exhalation in close connection with full and relaxed inhalation. How many times have you heard the recommendation to take “a long and deep breath” to cool down? Lungs cannot be filled if they are full of air: they need to be emptied first! This is a key concept to understand.
Breathing well can help us smile more frequently and live a better life!