What Does Your Breath Say About Your Health?

breathwork Sep 13, 2020

Have you tuned into your breath lately? For most of us, it’s not something we give much thought to. It happens in the background under the influence of your autonomic nervous system. If you’re breathing, you’re good, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. How you’re breathing matters a great deal to your physical, mental, and emotional health. Breathing is the one physical function which is both involuntary (happens by itself) and voluntary (we can control it). 

We weren’t given a manual on how to breathe, and in our modern world, most of us breathe in a way that perpetuates the stress response and leads to imbalances in the mind and body. I want you to tune into your breath right now and observe how you’re breathing. Are you breathing slow or fast? Are you inhaling through your nose or mouth? Is your belly expanding or is your chest expanding on your inhale? Are you holding your breath?

Fast, shallow chest breathing through the mouth is very common, but it can be detrimental if it becomes the habitual pattern. It perpetuates stress and anxiety, activates the fight or flight response, and suppresses the immune system. I also talk to many people who find that they’re holding their breath without even realizing it! If this becomes habitual, it can lead to health challenges as well.

The breathing process, how you’re inhaling and exhaling is of great importance in maintaining health and is a great indicator of one’s physical and emotional state.

The good news is that you can consciously control the breath and begin to fix it. Breathwork practices involve consciously breathing in a certain pattern and style that influences the mind and body in certain ways.

Our focus today is on rhythmic diaphragmatic breathing. The most important aspect of breath control and using the breath to promote health and longevity is rhythmic diaphragmatic breathing. It’s benefits are numerous and goes back to the ancient teachings of yoga and pranayama.

The average person uses their chest muscles rather than the diaphragm to breathe which results in shallow, rapid, and irregular breathing. Rhythmic diaphragmatic breathing begins to balance the nervous system, support heart health, improve circulation, promote lymphatic drainage, reduce stress, calm the mind, and bring the different functions and rhythms of the body back into coherence and harmony.

How to Practice Rhythmic Diaphragmatic Breathing 

  1. Diaphragmatic breathing can be practiced in a firm standing position, a steady sitting position, or by lying on your back with your hands along the sides of your body, palms upward, and legs slightly apart
  2. Begin to breathe in deep from the belly, up into the diaphragm. Normal diaphragmatic breathing pushes the abdomen forward during inhalation. So yes, your belly is going to stick out. This is a good thing. No more sucking in your stomach!
  3. As your normal way of breathing throughout the day, you always want to breathe in and out through your nose. During specific breathwork practices, we may breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. There are numerous reasons for nostril breathing versus mouth breathing; such as the role of the nose in air filtration, moisturizing, and warming the air coming into the body.
  4. Take a deep inhale through the nose; there should be no sound in the breath, and exhale. Having exhaled completely, inhalation begins; minimizing the pause and making no sound.
  5. Finally, you want to breathe in a rhythm. A good way to begin is to breathe in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 4. This brings balance and harmony to the nervous system and the different functions in your body when the inhale and exhale are equal lengths. If your focus is on stress relief or sleep, then it’s helpful to extend the length of your exhale which will activate the parasympathetic nervous system for relaxation, rest, and digestion. In this case try breathing in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 8. (To extend your exhale, you may find it easier to exhale through the mouth.)
  6. Repeat for 5-10 minutes a few times a day. As you become good at this practice, begin extending the length of your inhales and exhales; further slowing down your breathing rate.

“If the practice of rhythmic diaphragmatic breathing is done ten times a day for at least two months, with gradual and equal prolongation of the inhalation and exhalation, the body will experience a sense of deep relaxation and rest—more restful even than the deepest sleep. One will remain free from the stress and strain which is the source of many physical and psychosomatic illnesses. The nerves will be calm, and the voice and face will manifest this serenity. The voice will grow sweeter, and the harsh lines of the face will be replaced by a soft glow.” - Swami Rama, The Science of Breath

Curious if you're breathing correctly? Take my 11 question quiz to find out!

 

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