Our Breath, Our Health
Our Breath, Our Health
Isn’t it funny how the seemingly small and simple things in life tend to be the most important?
Take for instance our breath. Have you ever stopped and felt the primitive joy of your lungs rising and falling? Such an autonomic function that we rarely notice.
Most of us live such fast paced and stressful lives full of endless task lists and overwhelming demands that we can barely catch our breath much less pay attention to it or slow it down.
I was recently listening to a podcast about health and wellness that discussed our quality of breath and its impact on our physical health. The information captivated me, and before I knew it I was knee deep in podcasts and articles offering further information to meet my curiosity…
It turns out that modern adults breathe much faster than past generations. Adults on average today breathe 15-20 breaths per minute versus the past average of 8-10 breaths per minute. Cancer patients and severely ill individuals usually have higher breath rates of 20+ per minute.
Taking in larger amounts of oxygen affects our whole being – our physical, spiritual, mental, relational, and emotional health. Slowed breathing can lower blood pressure, alter the pH of our blood, help to heal/prevent illness, relieve tension, and calm racing thoughts.
The faster we breathe, the more CO2 we lose, which reduces body oxygenation and causes all sorts of problems.
Here’s some of the science behind it:
When we are stressed and breathing rapidly, our sympathetic nervous system is activated – the fight or flight response –
When we are more relaxed and breathing slowly (specifically in the range of 10 breaths per minute) our parasympathetic nervous system is engaged – the one responsible for helping our body to relax – also activated is the vagus nerve, which is associated with rest and recuperation.
One study in which 85,000 people were surveyed found that “fast breathers suffer from much higher levels of anxiety, depression, sleeping disorders and high blood pressure than slow breathers”(Sircus, 2014).
Modern science is backing what ancient traditions have been saying for centuries. The Indian practice of yoga calls slow, deep, and intentional breathing pranayama – which translates to control of the life force.
Scientists are finding that we can actually retrain our body’s reaction to stressful situations through practicing regular deep breathing. Even as little as 10 minutes a day of meditation (slowing down/focusing on your breath/being still) has been shown to make a difference in people’s health and ability to relax, helping to quiet the mind and reduce racing thoughts.
Sit quietly for a moment and take note of your breath rate (without trying to change it).
How many breaths do you take per minute?
How often do you notice your breath?
Might it feel different to breathe slower?
The best part about all of this is that our breath is a fantastic resource literally right under our nose!
Research shows that abdominal breathing increases oxygen intake – if you are curious to get more information or try it out you can check out this simple video or play around with it on your own.
Here’s a little help to get you started:
- 1. Sit or lie comfortably, close your eyes if appropriate.
- 2. Place one hand on your abdomen & one on your chest to feel the rise/fall.
- 3. Breathe in & slowly fill your abdomen.
- 4. Count your inhale (start with 3-4 seconds & slowly increase).
- 5. Hold at the top of your breath for a few counts (2-3 seconds).
- 6. Breathe out slowly (try to get the time of your exhale to match the length of your inhale)
- 7. Repeat.