Saturday, February 24, 2024

Take a deep breath— and relax!

Reading Time: 5 minutes

If you’re perusing through this article, you’re engaged in the act of breathing. The fascinating aspect of breathing lies in its involuntary nature, occurring whether or not we actively think about it. However, we also possess the ability to consciously manipulate our breath when we are aware of our breathing patterns. For instance, we can opt to regulate our breath by slowing it down, accelerating it or choosing between shallow and deep breaths.

The manner in which we breathe holds significance for our well being. Through intentional deep breathing or breath control, we can positively impact our body in so many ways. We can reduce our blood pressure and stress levels and even enhance our cognitive clarity. Experiencing a sense of calm and feeling centred following a deep breathing session is very common and a consistent breathing routine can enhance your overall sense of well being.

Many medical professionals and adherents of yoga recommend incorporating deep breathing exercises into your daily routine to enhance your general health and induce relaxation. It stands as an optimal approach for both physical and mental relaxation especially if you live a hectic life where stress and anxiety often prevail.

This invaluable health technique demands no special equipment and is accessible at any moment throughout your day. For those intrigued by the workings and benefits of deep breathing, continue reading….

What Is deep breathing?

Breathing is essential to life, as our bodies require oxygen for various functions like muscle movement, digestion, and cognitive processes such as reading. Breathing also facilitates the elimination of carbon dioxide from our bodies, a byproduct of these activities.

The breathing process involves two phases: inhalation and exhalation.

During inhalation, the diaphragm (dome-shaped muscle located between your chest and abdominal cavities) contracts, creating space in the chest cavity for the lungs to expand.

When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and the amount of air in your lungs reduces.

Intentional deep breathing involves consciously filling the lungs with air, requiring abdominal relaxation. Deep breathing, often encouraged in diaphragmatic breathing, promotes inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Normal breathing may not achieve this intentional depth, potentially causing unintentional stress, whereas deep breathing naturally slows your breathing. Meditation and guided relaxation often commence with breath awareness, allowing intentional slowing and controlling of your breathing. The next time you focus on your breathing, try to observe your breathing’s speed and depth can offer valuable insights into your well-being.

Health benefits of deep breathing —

Deep breathing offers a valuable tool to manage stress, a contributor to various health conditions. Research findings and experts unanimously endorse the safety and value of deep breathing. Whether practised independently, as part of meditation or combined with activities like yoga, this adjunctive approach proves beneficial if you particularly suffer from health issues. Deep breathing stands out as a simple and accessible method to enhance your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.

  1. Improves lung capacity:

Engaging in diaphragmatic breathing is instrumental in fortifying the diaphragm, a pivotal respiratory muscle. This practice enhances the effectiveness of your auxiliary breathing muscles, easing respiration especially if you grapple with conditions such as COPD, asthma, and compromised lung tissues from smoking or COVID-19.  The positive impact of breathing exercises on lung function has been particularly noteworthy for patients dealing with chronic lung ailments like Asthma, Emphysema, Bronchitis, and COPD. Diaphragmatic breathing holds potential for aiding in the recovery from lung or respiratory infections, and mitigating stress levels associated with these infections.

  1. Relieves pain:

Deep breathing triggers a release of endorphins into your body which not only makes you feel good mentally but also helps combat pain.

  1. Enhances your energy levels:

Deep breathing means more oxygen in your blood. More oxygen means every organ in your body can function at its best thus boosting your energy levels and stamina.

  1. Removes toxins from your body:

Deep breathing can help you expel toxins from your body like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other waste products. When you do not breathe out fully, your body has to work overtime to get rid of these toxins. Deep breathing also detoxifies your system efficiently.

  1. Reduces stress and helps your mental health:

Deep breathing elevates your endorphin (feel-good hormone) levels while reducing your cortisol (stress hormone) levels, fostering a calm and relaxed state in the brain. Deep breathing enhances oxygen intake thus promoting mental tranquillity and proving to be highly effective in stress and anxiety reduction. In terms of emotional well-being, employing deep breathing during overwhelming or stressful moments can positively impact your feelings and thoughts. Mental health disorders, often linked to elevated stress, can disrupt normal breath rhythms, contributing to issues like anxiety and insomnia. Mindful and deep breathing can help restore balance to your breath system, providing relief. In times of stress or anxiety, deep breaths slow down your heart rate, increase oxygen in your bloodstream and tell your brain to relax, simultaneously boosting endorphins in your body, the “feel-good” hormone.

  1. Can make your skin glow:

Deep breathing exercises increase the supply of oxygen to your body and blood which increases the blood thrush and makes your skin glow. Deep breathing also detoxifies your blood which results in younger looking and glowing skin.

  1. Helps correct your posture:

When you take a deep breath, your lungs expand to their maximum capacity, requiring your diaphragm to descend, consequently causing your torso to straighten to allow this process to take place. Next time you breathe in, notice that you simultaneously lengthen and straighten your spine.

  1. Enhances your cognitive function:

Deep breathing on a regular basis will improve your concentration and focus along with enhancing your memory and decision-making abilities.

  1. Boosts immunity:

Deep breathing causes more oxygen to enter your blood. Well oxygenated blood allows your body to absorb nutrients and vitamins more efficiently, which in turn improves your immunity. SImply put, the cleaner your blood, the harder it is for illnesses to linger in your system.

  1. Improves your quality of sleep:

Deep breathing exercises relax your body and calm down your mind, reducing your stress and anxiety which can help you get a good night’s sleep.

  1. Aids in digestion:

When you regularly practise deep breathing, your body starts functioning more efficiently. This includes your intestines and digestive system. The deeper you breathe, the healthier your blood flow, which in turn promotes your organs to function more effectively, including your intestines.

  1. Regulates blood pressure and cardiovascular health:

Deep breathing induces muscle relaxation and widens your blood vessels, promoting enhanced blood circulation, normalisation of your heart rhythm, and even reduces your blood pressure. Additionally, deep breathing moderates and stabilises your heart rate. If you experience anxiety, consistently practising deep breathing can be effective in maintaining healthy blood pressure levels and can be highly advantageous for your cardiovascular health.

A simple deep breathing exercise if you are a beginner —

You can either map out time in your busy day to practise deep breathing, or you can choose to do it whenever you find yourself feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Whatever works for you

The following exercise is recommended to get started.

  • Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly and breathe normally. You will notice how your top hand is moving more than the bottom hand. Your goal is to shift your breathing so that your top hand remains steady and the bottom hand moves as your belly rises and falls.
  • Allow your belly to be soft as you take a deep breath in through your nose and exhale after 4 to 6 counts. As you breathe in, the belly is going to rise very slowly, and then as you exhale, the belly will fall.
  • Try to make your exhale last a second or two longer than your inhale.
  • Practise this for 6 to 10 breaths and gradually build it. You don’t need to do this for 20 minutes if you’re new to deep breathing.

Slowing down and controlling your breathing can make a real difference. It can give you a sense of control in situations where things feel out of your control.

Vinita Alvares Fernandes
Vinita Alvares Fernandes is an Economics graduate, a writer and a Trinity College certified public speaker and communicator

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