Take A Deep Breath and Live Longer
The Importance of Breathing
Who does not look forward to holidays on the hills, trekking amidst glorious nature or at a mountain resort? While most of us are pretty excited to be with friends and family, spending some quality time admiring and taking in nature, there are also some concerns that need to be addressed. Amidst the agony and the ecstasy of making plans for a holiday, one of the most important things you can do for your sanity and overall health is to learn how to breathe correctly and get the maximum benefit out of the clean outdoor air that you will become part of your holiday package. Slow, deep breathing helps us to relax properly .The more oxygen we get the more relaxed we are and more healing happens within our bodies and since this is a continuous process, we have to make the most of it. In fact, a proper breathing technique is central to the ancient practices of Yoga, Qi Gong, Ayurveda and other meditation disciplines practiced in the ancient Eastern culture.
The new Gurus of respiration say that the way we breathe is what is making us sick. The leaders of the better breathing movement say that a concept taken, which is central to yoga - that how we breathe influences every part of our physical and emotional health. Adult Education Programs offer classes on the subject and training centers have sprung up in many places in the West and other parts of the world as well, where you can spend a weekend or a week learning or rather relearning how to breathe!
Just to know a little more about your own breathing style - Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Breathe normally for a few moments, noting the movement of each hand as you inhale. Which hand rises more dramatically? If it is the one on your belly, take it off and pat yourself on the back. You have excellent respiratory techniques. But, if it is the hand on your chest, you would better take a deep breath - though you probably cannot since you are breathing wrong.
Better breathing experts assert that up to 25 percent of the population -perhaps even half, is made up of dysfunctional breathers, whose shallow respiration makes them vulnerable to all manner of illness and aches. Most people accept that learning to breathe right can help control anxiety. But advocates of belly breathing go even further. They insist that people land in physicians’ and therapists’ offices with health conditions like Asthma, Migraines, Heart disease, Depression, Epilepsy , which are all caused or at least exacerbated by poor respiratory technique. Many clinics now teach deep rapid respiration, which allegedly bring about a change and an altered state of consciousness .So the message is clear – if you want to feel better and live longer, quit holding your breath!
Can Deep breathing really be the key to health and happiness?
The goal of respiration is to bring fresh air into the lungs and the lungs are located in the chest. The basic method seems perfectly logical and it is hard to imagine why anyone would call chest breathing dysfunctional. After all people are hardly keeling over on the streets every day, gasping for breath. So, one wonders how much of this talk about revamped respiration is grounded in fact? The problem, according to experts is that chest breathers don’t take in enough air to fill their lungs which is bad news! Because, oxygen molecules lingering in the upper lungs, don’t diffuse into a large proportion of the blood vessels, which are most intensively concentrated in lower lobes. And, if oxygen does not get to all the blood vessels, the muscles and organs that are waiting for it could suffer. So, as a result to get more oxygen they need, chest breathers have to breathe more often, that is faster and that is where the trouble supposedly starts.
As any doctor will tell you, exhaling carbon dioxide too quickly disturbs the balance of acidity and alkalinity – known as pH – in the blood. And when acid levels drop, a complicated reaction occurs that actually keeps the blood cells from delivering oxygen to muscles and organs, including the brain. And the end result: Hyperventilation (This state normally occurs when you breathe at a rate faster than your normal breathing pattern. It also occurs when you breathe more deeply). Exercising too hard, anxiety and a short list of biological disorders can cause a person to hyperventilation, which is definitely not pleasant experience. You can get dizzy and may even pass out at times, however, thankfully, it is not thought of as an everyday event.
Blowing off CO2 all day long and the reduced oxygen delivery that results, leads to chronic state of low grade hyperventilation. In fact, according to experts, as much as half of the population, may be gently hyperventilating right this very minute! Not everyone is going to fall sick because of it, but, anyone who already suffers from migraines, epileptic seizures or emotional problems such as depression and phobias may end up feeling worse. Physicians go as far as saying that chronic hyperventilation can even intensify symptoms of heart disease. Now that is something that we have to take note of! Taking a deep breath can be very bad for someone who is feeling anxious or is agitated. If such a person begins taking deep breaths, they are likely to experience an even more aroused state and at such times it is necessary to take practiced and controlled breaths that calm you rather than ruffle you.
Simple suggestions for Learning to Breathe Correctly
Rediscover your diaphragm
It is the muscle that separates your chest and abdomen, and it always lowers at least a little during inhalation, forcing the abdomen outward and creating room for the lungs to expand. Consciously relaxing the abdomen muscles on the inward breath lets the diaphragm drop farther, opening up even more space for the lungs. Diaphragmatic breathers are very easy to spot, sine their bellies bulge when they inhale.
To practice breathing from the diaphragm, it is helpful to lie on your back with one hand on your abdomen. Start by inhaling through your nostrils, filling the abdominal region (your hand should rise), then the rib cage, and finally the upper chest. Hold the breath for two seconds, then exhale slowly, allowing the abdomen, rib cage and your upper chest to empty in a wavelike motion. Pause a second before inhaling again and do this as many times as you can.
New born babies and for that matter children up to the age of 3 or 4 , for instance are excellent practitioners of this above method, which goes to show that nature intended it that way. Just one breath in and an infant or a small child’s whole midsection balloons out! So, doesn't that make one wonder, how did so many of us turn into shallow breathers? As we grew up we started sucking in our guts to look fit and thin or may be, we realized that the world was full of irritations and responded by clenching our abdominal muscles along with our fists. And, whether one believes it or not the deal was clinched when we started wearing tight clothing. According to some notes made by a researcher, he got his test subjects to boost the amount of air they inhaled by more than 30 percent, simply by loosening their belts.
Breathing deeply anytime during the day is possible even when you are standing. Raise your arms to your sides an over your head as you inhale, then slowly bring them down and exhale deeply to push out all stake air and carbon dioxide. Deep breathing is like a natural tranquilizer for our nervous system since it soothes and puts our system into a state of rest. Deep breathing has proved to be very helpful to those who have problems sleeping at night.
Chest (Thoracic) Breathers
Chest breathers who learn to take in more air with each inhalation seem to be able to remedy the consequences of bad breathing technique. This way they stabilize their blood pH levels and end up breathing more slowly.. The average person breathes eight to 14 times per minute, while a hyper-ventilator might huff and puff twenty times or more! With breathing exercises and controlled respiration one can lower the respiration rate to three or four breaths per minute, though it might take time to strike the right balance and rhythm.
There are however some arguments which say that it does not make much of a difference whether you breathe from your stomach or from your chest and some pulmonologists believe that it makes very little physiological sense. For instance : they stress the notion that shallow breaths never reach the bottom of the lungs is a fallacy, while it is true that lungs have a greater number of blood vessels at the bottom than at the top. However, the bottom portion of the lung expands more easily than the stiffer upper portion making the lower lobes inflate with air molecules more easily. So, according to them it all evens out at the end.
But, the argument is that since our bodies thrive on oxygen, doesn’t getting more of it into your bloodstream make you healthier? Here too pulmonologists have an explanation – according to them, whatever air we breathe indoors or outdoors, virtually all human beings have blood that is almost 95 per cent saturated with oxygen. At that level, increasing oxygen intake has no impact. They also say that we carry a huge reserve of the stuff in our blood and when we are resting only about a quarter of the oxygen ferried by hemoglobin to body tissue is metabolized and, the rest of the molecules are sent back to the heart unused. It is also a fact that hyperventilation is not as common as is normally claimed by breathing advocates who estimate that every second person is not breathing in enough air and thereby oxygen.
The human brain ensures that over a period of time, shallow and deep breathers ventilate roughly the same amount of air. Besides, it is not possible to permanently change the way you breathe. You can teach someone to breathe three times per minute and they can do it for a short while. But the physiological mechanism that controls breathing cannot be overridden indefinitely .However, although the average person needn’t boost his or her oxygen intake or worry about carbon dioxide, no physiologist will argue with the idea that deep breathing has some or in fact a lot of advantages. You may not need to overhaul your respiratory style but learning to slow your ventilation with diaphragmatic breathing can short circuit a common and destructive problem that is very much seen in the present day life style namely stress, which is your body’s response to stress !
As soon as you begin to feel tense and stressed, your body braces for trouble. Heart rate speeds up and blood pressure soars to transport fuel (in the form of glucose and oxygen) to the muscles, so they will be ready for either fight or flight! You automatically begin to breathe faster to expel the carbon dioxide that is created when the fuel is metabolized. Such panicky situations that confront almost all of us in our daily lives rarely require an actual fight or flight. Like for example when you have to make a speech or when you go for a job interview, you get the same racing heart and quickened respiration. The more sensible and cool headed people respond to such stressful situations by stopping to take a deep breath and find that it helps, Why ?
Why take a deep breath?
Because it is the only thing you can actually do to shut down the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the physiological overdrive that stressful situations trigger. We normally end up with reactions like rapid heart beat, high blood pressure an happen at the same timed glucose release, all of which happen at the same time. And we have no control over these reactions but respiration can be controlled by us.
Respiration is both voluntary and non voluntary. You do it all the time without giving it a second thought but, you can consciously alter it if and when you want to - or even stop it altogether for brief periods of time! And as luck would have it, all of those fight or flight responses depend on one another. If you interrupt any activity of the sympathetic nervous system, you tend to change all of them since they are all inter related. Take a deep breath when your blood begins to boil, because of a stressful situation, and your pulse and blood pressure slackens with that one deep breath!
Concentrating on your breath when you are really stressed out has other fringe benefits too. According to Psychologists, when you give all your attention to managing your breathing, you stop thinking the thoughts that produced the arousal of such a reaction in the first place. In other words, breathing intently can be a distraction, a kind of time-out for grownups! In fact, once you develop this technique of deep breathing by practicing it every day and at every given situation it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens - before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. It is bound to help you out especially when you have a panic attacks.
Are you getting enough Vitamin O2?
On a lighter note, the hottest trend in upscale bar gimmicks abroad seems to be all about getting a breath of fresh air. I was reading up a report about a bar in Toronto – many of them called O2 Spa Bars, supposed to be the first of their kind in North America, where customers simply unwind by slipping plastic tubes up their noses and inhaling 99 per cent pure oxygen, paying up to 30 dollars or more an hour for that privilege. The theory, oxygen is essential for life and is worth paying for! The oxygen bar owners stress that the purpose is recreational and not medical, but they also claim that customers leave feeling more relaxed, energetic , alert and more importantly stress free!
In fact, Hemoglobin is the ingredient in the blood that conveys oxygen throughout our system. And, it reaches full capacity well before the blood is actually saturated. So, adding more oxygen to your blood is not going to make you feel any different. The same holds true of all oxygen sports drinks and supplements, which manufactures energy drinks. These manufacturers of various energy drinks claim that sipping their particular brand of beverage before exercising helps increase stamina, improve performance and reduce recovery time. However, according to physiologists drinking oxygen is no more effective than inhaling it. Athletes, according to them, might gain a mental edge from believing that the oxygen makes them stronger and faster than the rest. But finally it is all to do with one’s own fitness and psyche and has no apparent added or any extra physiological benefit from those beverages.
In fact, bouts of resistance exercise routine coupled with deep breathing may prove to be much more helpful to Athletes and sports persons when they have to take part in vigorous sports activities or sports competitions.
Deep breathing and medical conditions
May be, in fact, breathing’s true role in treating medical conditions is much simpler than we think. According to some researchers, there is not a single study that has shown so far that we need to get rid of as much carbon dioxide as possible or that there are some mysterious benefits of deep breathing. In fact, according to them a human being might die within minutes if carbon dioxide level drops to a quarter or fifth of the physiological norm. They tend to think that, the benefits of deep breathing, is nothing but a superstitious myth largely preached by Yoga experts and has no credibility to it. Some even tend to simply wave it away saying it has absolutely no benefits at all.
No doubt that ,there is not much evidence as of date, that learning to breathe better cures heart disease or eliminates migraine headaches, but it will definitely help people control the painful symptoms of these ailments which are often associated with stress and anxiety or even panic. One can even add insomnia, asthma and nervous disorder to that category of ailments. Indeed, the more we learn about stress, the more far ranging and profound its effects on the body seem to be. By some estimates according to many physicians 60 to 90 percent of all our visits to doctors are stress related. So, now we can see how deep breathing and its importance comes into the picture though not directly and that’s what makes most researchers disclaim the benefits of deep breathing since its effects are not direct like other medication and injections that do their job at one shot.
According to some reports that I happened to read about the Stress Reduction Clinic of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, where more than 18,000 people have been treated for pain and symptoms related to a wide range of complaints - One of the first things they teach their patients is to pay careful attention to their respiration and also train them to breathe properly using the right technique. When a patient concentrates on breathing, the shallow gasps of struggle with chronic pain gradually gives way to slower deep drafts of air which is soothing. Physical tension that has been built up in the patients, which in fact is the reason for worsening pain, simply melts away!
Some clinical experts call respiration and deep breathing as meditation, except that you don’t have a mantra nor do you need to choose one nor do you have to clear your head of thoughts (which in fact might happen automatically when you concentrate on deep breathing and inhaling). Filling up your lungs with fresh air may not be a panacea , but you can blow away stress by doing it when you are stuck in traffic by breathing in and breathing out to calm your nerves and at the end of the day, relaxing by doing nothing for a few minutes except breath in and breath out before plunging into your commitments and routine activities.
Best of all, the relief it brings to you and your system is totally free, non addictive and always just a breath away!
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