The majority of us do not even think about how we breathe. It is an automatic function of the body that is controlled by the respiratory center of the brain. Our breathing constantly changes to our body demands and to different activities throughout the day (sleeping, exercise, work etc).
Primarily, breathing allows us to bring oxygen (O2) into our body and eliminate carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air. We use O2 in every cell and organ throughout the body, and if we are unable to breathe it in, our organs will fail. The successful elimination of CO2 allows the body to maintain a correct level of acidity.
The main muscle that controls the breathing process is the diaphragm. When the diaphragm contracts, it expands the lungs during inspiration (breathing in). However, when we become stressed, we tend to breathe less deeply and use the shoulders rather than our diaphragm. This stressful breathing is known to disrupt the balance of O2 and CO2 in our body, and can prolong feelings of anxiety and stress.
The following is a step-by-step process on how to breathe using your diaphragm and is a great technique to practice daily:
1) Sit comfortably in a chair with shoulders, neck and head relaxed.
2) Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage, which allows for feeling of the diaphragm as you breathe in.
3) Breathe in slowly through your nose, so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
4) At first, you’ll probably get tired while doing this exercise. But keep at it, because with continued practice, diaphragmatic breathing will become easy and automatic.
5) Practice for 5-10 minutes, 2-3 times per day.
Learning to breathe correctly and taking the extra time in your day to practice is a very simple and easy way to improve your health and wellbeing. Controlled breathing can help lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce levels of stress, balance levels of O2 and CO2 in the blood, increase physical energy and increase feelings of calm and wellbeing.
Remember, breathing correctly is also very important when exercising. This applies during aerobic, strength, balance and flexibility exercises. Ask your Exercise Physiologist at Optimum Health Solutions about breathing correctly the next time you’re in the studio.