Breathing is something it’s easy to take for granted. Many think of it as a thing that just happens, like blood cells clotting or your hair growing. And while that’s true to some extent, breathing is different in that we can control the way it is done – which can’t be said about many other bodily functions.
There’s something else that’s special about breath — we can use it for so much more than just getting oxygen into the body. It isn’t just our literal life force but it’s also a force for many other things, including emotional and mental experiences. If you look up some focusing and relaxation techniques of figures you admire, from singers to athletes to politicians, you’ll likely find that deep breathing is somewhere in their repertoire. It can be hard for some to believe that something as simple as breathing – something we do without even thinking and literally in our sleep – could change one’s life, but it can. It puts one in touch with their mind and body in a way that people don’t have the chance to do while running around, carrying about their busy lives — and it’s totally free. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of deep breathing.
Improve blood pressure
When someone with blood pressure issues is getting worked up, you often see a loved one pulling them aside, suggesting they step away, count to ten, and take deep breaths before reengaging. This isn’t just to stop them from doing something that they regret. Deep breathing allows for the healthy exchange of new oxygen for old carbon dioxide, which helps stabilize blood pressure.
One study followed several participants around for weeks, giving them deep breathing exercises, and attaching them to devices that measured their average respiratory rate. The study found a significant improvement in cortisol levels, leading to the conclusion that regular deep breathing could have real effects when it comes to stress management.
If you’re ever feeling that slump coming on, like that 3pm fatigue after you’ve had lunch but before you’re done with the day’s work, and don’t want to hit the coffee machine again, consider taking deep breaths. It helps with proper dilation of the blood vessels, which can in turn give you more energy. It’s no wonder that in Ancient Chinese medicine, deep breathing is often referred to as “qi,” which translates to material energy, or life force.
Relieve respiratory symptoms
Those who suffer from asthma and other respiratory symptoms should consider adding deep breathing to their preventative routine. It relaxes the breathing muscles and releases tension from the diaphragm, opening up the chest more, encouraging better posture, and allowing one to get oxygen with less effort. Of course, those with asthma or other conditions should consult a doctor on all preventative care.
Fight the aging process
Our skin is an organ, and like all of our other organs, it has tissues that deteriorate over time. We just don’t see those signs of deterioration on, say, our liver or kidney. But we see it on our skin in wrinkles, fine lines, and similar signs. Research suggests that the type of focused breathing done during meditation and yoga can actually slow the accumulation of certain proteins in the body, that lead to skin deterioration.
Fortifying the lymphatic system
The lymphatic system is right up there with your immune system when it comes to protecting the body against disease and illness. It helps remove waste, maintain proper bodily fluids, fight off viruses, and more. A person can suffer a number of ailments if there is any disruption to the lymphatic flow, and deep breathing has been found to be one way to prevent such a disruption.
Improve heart health
There are many factors that play into cardiovascular health, but one of them is reducing hostility and anger, which leads to physical reactions that are bad for our hearts. Research has found that deep breathing –specifically pranayama – reduces the body’s arousal to external stimuli. In other words, deep breathing helps us overreact less, and can be good for the heart in that way.
If you have a presentation, exam, interview, or other event where performance is key, consider deep breathing minutes before. Research has found that it releases a brain chemical called noradrenaline, which activates when we’re feeling curious, aroused, focused, or challenged. It helps our brain form connections and leads to better focus.
Get a stronger core
If you want a stronger midsection, it’s not all about pull-ups and sit-ups and planks. Deep breathing strengthens this midsection, too. One study found that, deep breathing exercises not only strengthen abdominal muscles but also improve lumbar stabilization and can be important for those with lower back pain.
Our brain and body are communicating all of the time. Not only does deep breathing help relieve stress, but the actual act of taking deep, slow breaths sends a message to our brain that says we are calm now. There are clusters of neurons in the brain that interpret a certain type of breathing to mean that we are feeling a certain type of way, and in a sense, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, breathe as if you are calm, and you may actually become calm.
A stagnant digestive tract can lead to constipation, bloating, and other digestive disturbances. Deep breathing increases blood flow to many parts of the body, including the digestive tract, encouraging intestinal movement, and potentially alleviating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and similar ailments.
It’s common to see, directly after an injury, that people gather around the injured party and encourage them to take deep breaths. They’re onto something. When we experience pain, our brain should send out a pleasure response that helps combat it, but that response can become dulled in some humans over time, especially those who struggle with chronic pain. Deep breathing can help re-awaken the pain-fighting pleasure response.
Stand up straight
The way we live is conducive to fast breathing, and strained breathing. We’re either rushing from appointment to appointment, or sitting at a desk, slouched, doing nothing. That means we’re either breathing too fast, or we’re sitting in a position that doesn’t allow for proper breathing. That can lead to tension in the upper body, which results in bad posture over time. Deep breathing can help battle these issues, and encourage better posture, which, in turn, further improves breathing.
If you are a veteran or know a veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, or you are or know someone struggling with PTSD related to other traumatic events, consider deep breathing. One study found that veterans who attended just a week-long workshop focused on deep breathing felt the beneficial effects for a full year afterwards.
Exercise longer and harder
Deep breathing promotes better posture, and when we have better posture, we immediately create the space in our chest to allow in more oxygen. Getting in more oxygen through breathing means sending more oxygen to our muscles, which makes it easier to keep pushing yourself through that workout when you think you have nothing left to give.