By Addison Dunn
An elephant only takes four to five breaths per minute. When resting, an alligator may only take one breath per minute. We humans breathe 12-16 breaths per minute and roughly 25,000 times a day, but very few of us give much thought to how we breathe. Did you know that this automatic bodily function affects us at a cellular level? Research shows that changing the way we breathe can reduce stress, weight, allergies, asthma, and snoring. It can also improve energy, athletic performance, sleep, mood, focus, brain function, and much more.
Learning how to breathe correctly is more important than you may realize. Breathing in and out of the nose filters, heats, and treats the air. It helps us take fuller, deeper breaths. It also allows us to absorb more oxygen and raises the intake of nitric oxide, a molecule that opens the blood vessels, which increases circulation and allows oxygen, blood, and nutrients to travel to every part of the body. Weight, mood, immune system, and sexual function are all influenced by nitric oxide.
For the nearly forty percent of people who suffer from chronic nasal obstruction because of allergies, sinusitis, a deviated septum, or any of the other many causes, shutting the mouth can be a challenge. Always talk to your doctor about what is best for you. Learning to breathe through your decongested nose can be accomplished through sprays, neti pots, putting eucalyptus oil under your nose, and so on. Once your nose is clear and your mouth is shut, try this simple exercise:
Sit up straight, gently inhale and exhale, then pinch both nostrils shut. Shake your head up and down or from side to side until you feel the need to breathe. Take a slow breath in through the nose, or through pursed lips if the nose is still congested. Breathe calmly for 30 seconds to a minute and repeat five more times. Next, take some deep breaths. The average adult engages as little as ten percent of the diaphragm (the muscle under the lungs primarily responsible for respiration). Shallow chest breathing can overburden the heart, strain the neck and shoulder muscles, and keep you in a constant state of low-grade stress. Yikes. Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing, can retrain you to breathe more deeply, allow the lungs to soak up more oxygen, and reduce stress.
By controlling the breath, we can quickly affect our physical body and improve our emotional state. We get more energy from the air with long, deep breathing from the navel, at a rate of 8 or fewer breaths per minute. Shallow, rapid breathing requires more physical energy and ultimately perpetuates the cycle of constant arousal. The rhythm and depth of the breath correlates to different states of consciousness and emotion. To maintain the proper balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and avoid hyperventilation, it is important to breathe in only through the nose.
“The complete breath,” as it is known, is the most natural and simplest of all breathing exercises.
Besides supplying oxygen and removing carbon dioxide from the body, the respiratory system helps regulate pH balance (acidity and alkalinity), and excretes water vapor, hydrogen and small amounts of methane. Average size lungs can enlarge to a volume of almost 6,000 cubic centimeters, but we normally use only 600 to 700 cubic centimeters of that capacity because we breathe irregularly, rapidly, and shallowly. Due to the link between breathing and emotions, a rapid breath causes emotional responses, chronic tension, and weak nerves. If the lungs are not expanded to their full capacity, small air sacs (the alveoli) cannot clean out their mucous linings. Therefore, we do not get enough oxygen to flush out toxic irritants that can lead to infections and disease.
It is clear–breathing correctly can be life-changing. Here is another exercise to help you breathe to your fullest:
Lie flat on your back with your knees bent. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly just below your rib cage. Breathe in slowly through the nose so your stomach expands against your hand. The hand on your chest should not move. Slowly exhale through the nose or pursed lips and feel the belly move down to its original position. Repeat for five to ten minutes. As you get more comfortable with the technique, practice sitting or standing.
Simple breathing techniques can be done anywhere and anytime you need them. Just take a deep breath and feel the relaxation.