Many of us think that breathing is just that – breathing.
Yes, we all do it. No problem. It’s automatic. The body actually does it for us, giving us one less thing to worry about.
But breathing is so vital to our wellbeing, that we really do need to give it our attention.
Yes, we all know how to breathe in and out regularly and we equally know what happens to us on the day we stop breathing. But exactly how we do that breathing can affect our bodies and every aspect of our health and wellbeing!
Breathing and Emotions
You may have noticed that breathing patterns often reflect the body’s emotional state. A natural response to when we are feeling stressed, for example, is to shallow upper chest breathe, and even hyperventilate under more serious stress situations.
When we suppress upset feelings and thoughts, we tend to unknowingly restrict our breathing.
Being aware of how we are breathing, and the impact on our mental, emotional and physical health, is therefore important because it can help facilitate an emotional release.
Similarly, it is important to release negative emotions in order to maintain proper breathing.
Yoga is one form of stretching and movement that focuses on breathing techniques – the very essence of it is focus and attention. One of the gifts of yoga is that it trains us to pay attention to our breathing. As long as we stay focused on our breath, we are in the present moment. We are simply unable to be focused on our breath, and be with our worries at the same time.
A Breath of Fresh Air!
By now you may be asking why how we breathe is so important. Any exercise that focuses on the breath – such as Qigong, meditation, and yoga – helps to calm the mind and maintain optimum functioning of the body’s self regulating systems. It lowers blood pressure, heart rate, decreases those nasty stress hormones (like Cortisol) that do so much damage to all aspects of our health and, instead, increases the relaxation hormones like serotonin, dopamine and endorphins.
Overall, all breathing-focused exercises additionally assist with the body’s naturally occurring healing resources.
The more stressed we feel, and the more negative emotions we are holding within our systems, the more shallow our breathing. This leads our muscles to constrict, especially in the chest region, restricting lung function and, in turn, causing more shallow breathing.
So, do a quick check on how you are breathing. Then breathe in through the nose, lick your lips, and then blow out slowly. The cool air helps you slow down and refocus.
In the same way, deep breathing stimulates more deep breathing. It’s not hocus-pocus. It actually functions to turn off the Vagus Nerve switch. In brief, shallow breathing stimulates the Vagus Nerve which then serves to constrict the Bronchi in our lungs, thus restricting our breathing and oxygen uptake. Deliberate deep breathing stops that Vagus Nerve feedback loop of bronchial restriction, allowing us to breathe easier and continue deep breathing.
So deep nasal breathing really isn’t just for show in a yoga or meditation class. It further serves a crucial role in transporting Nitric Oxide, a very potent lung and blood vessel dilator that resides in our nasal passages. Because of where it resides, deep breathing is the best way to access it and help your lungs and blood vessels to open up and function more efficiently.
The Role of Nitric Oxide
Nitric Oxide is a short lived gas that tremendously affects all our bodily functions. It has a half life of less than several seconds. This gas is considered important enough to have generated a Nobel Prize in medicine; and it can even influence whether or not you have a heart attack! It plays a fundamental role in keeping the body healthy, and when impaired, the reverse is also true. Without Nitric Oxide we have dysfunctioning organs and cell injury, sickness, and a body that is old way before its time.
In the brain, Nitric Oxide acts as a neurotransmitter to transmit messages rapidly. It acts similarly to the brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine that promote the happy emotions, and it has a calming effect by allowing our blood vessels to relax and dilate and improve blood flow. People with clogged and hardened arteries just don’t make enough Nitric Oxide to keep their arteries open. The lack of Nitric Oxide also helps to explain the detrimental effects we feel during those periods of high stress.
Amazing as it seems, we don’t have to run out immediately and buy Nitric Oxide! It’s free, lives in the nasal passages and is readily available to all parts of our body quickly and simply, by deep breathing through the nose.
In addition, deep breathing is an easy way to promote wakefulness. When we feel sluggish and mentally tired, it means we don’t have sufficient levels of Nitric Oxide in our brain to keep us awake. Lack of Nitric Oxide even promotes aging of the skin – because to function well, healthy skin requires a good blood flow.
All too often when we are overweight, stressed and drained we have a tendency to breathe in a more shallow fashion through our mouths and, therefore, just when we are requiring Nitric Oxide the most, we are inhibiting our ability to access it.
So have you had your Nitric Oxide today? No? Then breathe slowly and deeply through your nose for a few minutes now, and from this moment on. Do it anytime, anywhere! It proves that some of the best things in life, really are free.
If you are feeling anxious and would like more techniques to help you manage stress, and improve your overall health and wellbeing, please make an appointment to have a chat with me.
Author: Dr Jan Philamon, PhD, BA (Hons) Psychology, C Teach, JP (Qual) Qld, MAPS.
As a registered teacher and psychologist, Dr Jan Philamon has a wealth of experience with children, however she enjoys helping individuals and couples at any stage of life. Jan aims to help people to be the best they can be and find success: improved wellbeing, gaining a sense of empowerment that allows them to actively problem solve and manage obstacles constructively, as well as positively plan and achieve their personal and career goals.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129