Breathing exercises can strengthen the muscles we use to breathe and allow us to get the most bang for our breath.
Breath to Create Calm
The stresses of everyday life tend to affect the way we breathe. Often this becomes a vicious cycle, where faster breathing can increase tension, which in turn can increase breathing and so on. If we learn the most relaxing ways of breathing, it can be positive for our short and long term health and well-being. When we are particularly stressed and not thinking clearly in a focused manner, taking a short break and practicing focused breathing can help us relax. For reducing stress, short periods of as little as 3-5 minutes, as needed during the day may be sufficient.
To attain relaxation through proper breathing, the objective is to lower your breathing rate to about six breaths a minute, with a longer time of expiration, that is breathing out, than inspiration, or breathing in.
When this is practiced regularly, it begins to unconsciously carry over to a better breathing pattern the rest of the time.
“Within a few weeks, the deep breathing exercises can help lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure — the top and bottom numbers in a blood pressure reading. The theory is that slow, deep breathing reduces activity in the part of the nervous system that controls blood flow (sympathetic nervous system), which allows blood pressure to return to normal.
As long as you continue doing the breathing exercises, you’re likely to enjoy the effects on your blood pressure. If you stop doing the breathing exercises, your blood pressure is likely to increase again.”
Sheldon G. Sheps, M.D.
Mayo Clinic Emeritus Hypertension Specialist
roper Breathing Technique
Breathing is best done through the nose. The air we breathe is warmed, moistened and filtered as it passes through the nasal passages. People with allergies and colds, who are mouth breathers, find that their mouths become dry, because the mucous membranes lining the mouth are not designed to work nearly as well in this regard.
The lungs fill with air when the chest cavity expands. Many people think of doing this by raising their upper chest; but in fact the chest cavity expands better and more fully when the diaphragm does its work. The diaphragm separates the chest from the abdominal cavity. Proper breathing involves expanding the lower part of the chest, so that the diaphragm descends and air is pulled down towards the bottom of the chest, filling the lungs entirely. In order to see if you are breathing properly, put your hands on your sides, at the bottom of your rib cage. When you breathe in, you should feel your hands being pushed outwards as the bottom of your chest expands. You may also note your abdomen pushing outwards as you breathe in. Another way to get used to this is to put your hands behind your head; now as you breathe in, you will notice that you can’t really raise your chest very much, but your breathing will be done lower down in your chest.
Breathing in is the active or excitatory phase of the breathing cycle. It requires some muscular effort; and it is important that this muscular effort include the lower part of the chest. Breathing out is more passive; unless you are asthmatic it requires no significant muscular effort. It is the relaxing phase of the breathing cycle. During inhalation the heart rate speeds up, and during expiration it slows down. In relaxation techniques, you should focus on feeling muscular tension flow out of your body as you breathe out. Some techniques have you imagine that you are breathing out through your heart; and even though this is not what is really happening, using that visualization seems to help many people to relax mentally.
Breathing Technique for Reducing Stress and Helping to Lower Blood Pressure
Focused slow breathing can help to reduce stress. Over the ages this has been found to be true. Yoga tradition teaches breathing technique as a way of relaxing. Meditative techniques often focus on breathing. Modern medicine has found that slow focused breathing is useful in relaxation and in lowering blood pressure.
We all know how to breathe; but there are breathing techniques that help us to achieve specific desired effects. We know that inspiration (breathing in) is the ‘excitatory’ phase of the breathing cycle; and expiration (breathing out) is the relaxing phase of the breathing cycle. We know that in general, slow breathing, with a longer expiration than inspiration, affects our Autonomic Nervous System and moves us from more of a Sympathetic predominant state to more of a Parasympathetic predominant state. You may read more elsewhere on the Autonomic Nervous System; for the moment it is enough to say that when we are in a Parasympathetic predominant state, we are more relaxed mentally, and more relaxed physically. The physical relaxation tends to carry over to the smooth muscle that is in our arteries, so that our arteries tend to be less ‘tight’ and our blood pressure may be lowered by 10-15 ‘points’ (‘mmHg’).
During our normal day, the stress of everyday life tends to affect us. The Central Nervous System, the ‘newer’ part of the nervous system that is more concerned with the world outside of us becomes predominant. That part of the nervous system is closer to the Sympathetic, or activity part of the ANS. Our breathing tends to speed up somewhat, and often we get into a more inspiratory breathing pattern. Things like caffeine, nicotine news reports and our work contribute to this largely stressful breathing pattern. It tends to become self-continuing.
Fortunately, even short pauses during the day, as few as 4-5 times for as brief as 3-5 minutes can carry over to keep us more relaxed. To help with with better blood pressure readings, we suggest four 15 minute sessions during the day. The more we focus on our breathing, the more we tend to temporarily shut out the outside world and go into more of an ANS predominant state; and as we spend more time on expiration than on inspiration, we tend towards a Parasympathetic state. Just short frequent breaks in this mode can carry over to the rest of the day
PURPLRFIRE — February 20, 2008 — Of course, everyone alive breathes, right? Yet,9 out of 10 Americans breathe inefficiently, putting their health at great risk. Relearn How to Breathe for better life and health from Ayo Handy-Kendi, CEO, PositivEnergyWorks, Breathologist and Stress Manager. www.myspace.com/breathepositiv
Most people do not breathe correctly. Considering that breathing is something we do 24/7 to keep us alive it is odd that we do not breathe in an efficient way. Most of us are shallow breathers and this creates a whole gamut of problems. Breathing exercises can strengthen the muscles we use to breathe and allow us to get the most bang for our breath.
- Breathing exercises can increase the strength of the muscles used in respiration. When you do not breathe deeply your intercostal muscles (around the ribs) get tight and weak, which makes breathing more difficult. Not only is it harder to get air into your lungs but it is harder to breathe out all the air you take in. This makes it difficult for clean, fresh oxygen to get distributed throughout your body where it’s needed. Without a steady supply of fresh oxygen you can become tired and are at higher risk for heart and respiratory disease. Breathing exercises will counteract the adverse effects of shallow breathing by making you breathe deeply from your belly.
- Breathing from your belly, or diaphragm, is very beneficial for your health and well-being. Most people breathe only from their chest or lungs. Actually, chest breathers only breathe into the top part of their lungs. Engaging your diaphragm muscle, which is situated below the chest, will allow you to take in more oxygen. This brings more blood and lymph into the chest and to the heart. Lymph contains immune cells. More lymph and oxygen-rich blood being circulated throughout the body will reduce the chances of lung infections, improve athletic endurance and create a feeling of relaxation and well-being.
- If you place one hand on your stomach and one on your lungs while you are breathing normally you can see if you are a chest breather or belly breather. How you breathe while you are awake is also how you breathe while you sleep. That means one-third of your life—the time spent sleeping—you may not be breathing efficiently. Consistently doing breathing exercises will train you to breathe deeply while you’re awake and will spill over into how you breathe while you’re asleep.
- Examples of breathing exercises include one that simply teaches you to breathe from your belly. Start by sitting comfortably in a chair or on the floor. Be sure to sit up tall. Breathe in while relaxing the muscles in your abdomen. Allow your stomach to fill with air first and then allow your lungs to fill, too. Hold the air in for five seconds before releasing the air from your lungs. Contract your abdominal muscles to push out all the air you took in. Continue breathing mindfully for five minutes. A variation of this exercise involves humming as you breathe out from your lungs and abdomen. Try to maintain the sound for as long as you can.
- Breathing exercises can be used to strengthen respiratory muscles, but they can also be used to create energy. An exercise called Bellows breathing, or the stimulating breath, can be used in addition to diaphragm breathing to give you a quick burst of energy. It also combats stress as it stimulates the release of epinephrine. Inhale and exhale quickly through your nose. Although this is fast it is not shallow in terms of breathing from your lungs. You will still be engaging your diaphragm muscle. Put your hand over your diaphragm and feel it move quickly up and down as you push in and out rapidly to do this exercise.
- Hyperventilation is a possibility when doing quick, energizing breathing exercises. Be sure to be seated when doing breathing exercises.
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