You can live for weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without breathing. Yet most of us do not even think twice about how we take in the air around us, or expel it from our lungs. Understandably so, as our primitive subconscious mechanisms, deep within our brain stems, consider it a priority so that we do not succumb to death. However, this also means that we can develop horrible breathing habits if we do not consciously and systematically practice the art of breathwork.
Harnessing the breath is one of two ways in which we can access and modulate our autonomic nervous systems. The other being the mind, but we will leave that topic for another time. Breathing in a slow, methodical manner can have massive benefits in and of itself, although there are many other nuances to explore. I believe that the most important aspect of healthy breathing practices revolves around nasal breathing. Many people go their entire adult lives without realizing that they have resorted to breathing through their mouths, which is very detrimental to your overall health for many reasons. First is that your nervous system receives the threat signal from mouth-breathing which sends our sympathetic nervous system into Red Alert. We typically reserve breathing through the mouth for those emergency situations where we need to fight or flee to save our lives. So, just imagine how stressed your adrenal glands will be having to respond to constant, unrelenting stress signals day in and day out.
Our noses are designed to help warm, humidify, and filter out the air that we inhale. These processes do not occur through the oral cavity, which can, needless to say, make you more susceptible to respiratory infections. Breathing through the mouth will also speed up your respiration rate, meaning that you will expel excessive amounts of carbon dioxide, resulting in a higher pH level of the blood. This may appear ideal on the surface as many Americans live in an acidic state; but let me explain the issue. In order for oxygen to reach the areas that it is needed the most, it gets unloaded by hemoglobin molecules where carbon dioxide is the highest. Then if oxygen delivery is altered, some tissues may become hypoxic, energy required for metabolic processes declines, and your mitochondria begin to suffer. All of this because of the simple fact that you resorted to breathing through your gullet. In the animal kingdom, there is no other mammal that ever breathes through the mouth at rest except for Homo Sedentarius.
Breathe through the nose for better blood flow!
When we breathe through our nose, the highly effective vasodilator, nitric oxide, is created in the paranasal sinuses and distributed throughout the body to assist in oxygen delivery (Lundberg, 2008). If blood vessels do not expand their circumference appropriately, then the pressure will begin to build, resulting in hypertension. There is a pandemic of high blood pressure so perhaps the simple incorporation of nasal breathing could revolutionize the medical field. I will not hold my breath for that to occur, pun intended, as there is no profit to be made by a minor alteration in natural breathing, but I digress. The way we are designed to breathe at rest is with our mouth closed, teeth lightly touching, tongue placed at the roof of the mouth, and with a gentle inhale through the nose while allowing a natural recoil during the exhale. This will naturally activate the diaphragm and stimulate the ventral vagus nerve to exert its calming effects on the body.
There is an endless list of breathing drill and techniques to dabble in, each providing their own benefits. Here I will touch on just a few to give you an idea and a starting point but feel free to investigate the multitude of options out there at your leisure.
- Box Breathing
o Simply, inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, and hold for a count of 4. Repeat for desired rounds. You can modify the number but keep each portion of the breath the same to form a box of equal lengths, otherwise known as a square. This helps to keep you present and engage in mindfulness. Your ability to stay on task will improve dramatically with daily box breathing.
- Follow the Breath
o All you do is keep your attention on the flow of the breath as it comes into your nostrils and through the respiratory passages. I like to follow my breath all the way down to my root chakra and then all the way back out my nostrils, taking note of the temperature change from inhale to exhale.
- Breath of Fire
o Sitting in an upright position, preferably on the ground, you will focus your effort only on the exhale. Exhale sharply out of your nose while contracting your abdominal muscles and just allow a reflexive inhale. You will likely not even realize that an inhale has taken place. Your pace should roughly be 2 exhales per second.
- Complete Breath
o You will start your deep inhale by first expanding your lower abdomen, then your lateral ribcage, and then all the way up into the chest, without raising your shoulders or clavicles. At the end of your nasal inhale, suck in a little extra though your mouth before releasing all tension and allowing the exhale to proceed naturally.
- Alternate Nostril Breathing
o Place your thumb over one nostril and the ring finger of the same hand over the other nostril, leaving your index and middle finger to rest lightly between the brows. Press your thumb to close off that nostril as you inhale through the other, hold for a second while you plug the opposite side during the exhale. Reverse this sequence for the next breath. You can also add in a count and try to extend the exhale as you move along.
o You will inhale through the nose for a count of 4, then hold softly for a count of 7, and finally purse your lips and allow the exhale to slowly exit for a count of 8. By extending your exhale, you are coaxing your vagus nerve back into action. You can also add in a “whooshing” sound on the exhale.
- Crocodile Breath
o Lying in the prone position, place one palm on top of your other hand and then rest your forehead on your hands. Make sure you are comfortable. Using strict nasal breathing, ensure that your lower abdomen expands into the ground as you inhale and slowly deflates as you exhale. This drill helps you activate your diaphragm, which is essential for relaxed breathing.
- Seesaw Breath
o In the supine position, place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. First, inhale into your abdomen and feel it with your lower hand and then on the next breath, breath into your chest. Seesaw back and forth for several round so that you can consciously become aware of the difference. You may also want to check in with your heartrate as you switch back and forth.
If you would like assistance on your health journey and are fed up with the conventional medical model, then contact our office at (727) 789-4020 and Janine will get you all set up for your initial consultation. I look forward to meeting you and helping you to be your best self.