Exploring the Wonder of Breath
We take a breath every 3.3 seconds or an average of 20,000 breaths a day.
This breath helps us to build our bones, blood, muscles, brain, and organs. It nourishes every part of our body. Breathing fuels life.
How Do We Breathe? Breathing is a reflex; we do not have to think to breathe. The science behind breathing isn’t that simple. We inhale the oxygen into our lungs, down the bronchioles, and into alveoli and capillaries to reach our blood. The blood transports oxygen to almost every part of the body. Oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged between the blood and the air; oxygen is loaded onto the red blood cells while carbon dioxide is unloaded from them into the air.
There are 25 trillion red blood cells, holding 270 million hemoglobin molecules. Hemoglobin molecules pick up the oxygen. The respiratory center in the brainstem, medulla, controls the breathing rate.
The breathing process is nothing short of a magical feat.
The ancient civilizations honored the power of breathing and practiced deep and mindful breathing. Ancient societies understood what science is discovering now; our breath controls our nervous system, mental health, and well-being.
Chest Breathing- If the breath is an autonomic system, we are breathing all the time correctly. Right? The answer is NO! Our daily lives have gotten so busy with work stress, traffic jams, and relationship problems that our body is in a constant fight or flight stress mode. This continuous stress mode leads to high blood pressure, suppression of the immune system, plus anxiety and depression. Obviously, we can’t avoid all the stressors in life, but we can modify how we respond to these stressors. Breath is an essential tool to reduce stress and relax. We don’t realize how much our breathing affects our nervous system’s responses to everyday life stressors.
Newborns have a perfect breathing pattern. Babies naturally take deep diaphragmatic breaths, pulling the air into the lowermost lobes of their lungs. That’s why we always keep a hand on the baby’s belly to check their breathing during nap time.
As adults, we lose this instinctive breathing pattern. We rush our breathing. Mostly stopping our breath at our chest. Most of us over breath as a result and overtax our respiratory and nervous systems. Human adults breathing patterns have shifted because of environmental stressors. The repetitive thoracic breathing pattern sets off the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight system in our bodies. The sympathetic nervous system has it’s time and place, it not good to have it activated 24/7.
Deep Breathing Practice- It’s essential to adopt a deep breathing pattern for better health. Deep breathing is a great technique to lower stress. It flips the switch of our nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic. There are different breathing techniques to bring about relaxation. The breathing technique described below is one of the simple ones that you can try anytime, anywhere.
- Find a quiet, relaxed environment without disturbances for five to ten minutes.
- Sit comfortably and open your chest. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
- Feel the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen.
- Spend the next few moments following the movement of your breath.
- Try to breathe in and out through the nose gently.
- Let the air fill your belly like a balloon, and then exhale deeply.
- With each breath, allow any tension in your body to slip away.
- Once your breathing is slow and deep, sit quietly and enjoy the calmness.
Try to set a reminder to check in with your breath a few times during your busy day. Focus on your breath and bring it back to the deep breathing state with each check-in. If you employ these breathing check-ins your daily routine, you will feel relaxed and have a better posture. Better posture is just a positive side-effect of abdominal breathing. Yes, you can thank me later.
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About the Author
Aesha Tahir is a health and wellness coach and a certified personal trainer. She holds a Master’s degree in Applied Exercise Science and is certified by the NASM as a Personal trainer. She is a certified USA Track and Field Running Coach and Road Runners of America Coach. She is a 200-HR Registered Yoga Teacher. She is also a group exercise instructor specializing in barre, spinning, strength training, boot camp, and yoga classes. She has over five years of experience in the fitness and wellness arena with focused expertise in coaching, corrective exercise and injury prevention, individualized fitness programs, and group fitness programs. She is also an aspiring public speaker in the fitness and wellness world who believes in this quote; “To be inspired is great, but to inspire is incredible.”