What are the benefits of deep breathing? Well, I’ll tell you. But first, take a deep breath in.
Go ahead, I’ll wait.
When I was a freshman in college my roommate (who I still love and adore) would often be at her computer typing away furiously while I’d be on my uncomfortable twin bed doing homework. The *tap-tap-tap* of her fingers pulsated the sound waves that reached my ears. As a dancer (and as a neurotic individual) I would allow the melody of a noisy keyboard to turn into a rhythmic chant in my head. And then, every now and then, the typing would stop and then I’d hear it: A deep, loud sigh.
Breathing brings peace.
It was as if my roommate’s body took the opportunity of a quick pause in the frenzied typing to gasp for some much needed air. The body is smart like that. It knows we need to breathe, even when we don’t take the time to remember it ourselves. Even at our extremes, our body is always breathing. If it stops… well, we die. So you can take comfort in the fact that if you are reading this, your body is doing its job. (Good job, body!) Heck, you can even try to stop this primal function by “holding your breath” and eventually you will pass out. Your body is clever enough to avoid such personal sabotage.
Clever, body. Keep breathing.
So while it’s an automatic process, many of us are not breathing to our full potential. That’s why the simple task of tuning into your breath can be one of the greatest assets to your health and overall well being.
Breathing can help you deal with stress. It helps your cells get the “good stuff” they need to replenish and nourish themselves. It releases all the the stuff we don’t need in the form of carbon dioxide out into the world (which needs it). It keeps our bodies fluid and free. It keeps our connective tissue healthy and elastic. Yes, breathing is just about the best thing you can do for your health.
10 More Benefits of Deep Breathing:
To encourage a daily practice, here are ten benefits of deep breathing. These quotes are taken from some of my favorite books on the subject – and you can find them at the bottom of this article.
1. Benefit of Deep Breathing: It cleanses the blood.
The quality of the blood depends largely upon its proper oxygenation in the lungs, and if it is under-oxygenated it becomes poor in quality and laden with all sorts of impurities, and the system suffers from lack of nourishment, and often becomes actually poisoned by the waste products reminding un-eliminated in the blood. As the entire body, every organ and every part, is dependent upon the blood for nourishment, impure blood must have a serious effect upon the entire system. –Yogi Ramacharaka
2. Benefit of Nostril Breathing: Natural air filter
Many of the diseases to which civilized man is subject are undoubtedly caused by the common habit of mouth-breathing. The organs of respiration have their only protective apparatus, filter, or dust catcher, in the nostrils. When the breath is taken through the mouth, there is nothing from mouth to lungs to strain the air, or to catch the dust and other foreign matter in the air. -Yogi Ramacharaka
3. Breathing deeply can change our posture, emotional well being, and mental outlook for the better.
Good—or poor—breathing habits affect every aspect of our bodies’ functioning, from our mental state to our digestive efficiency. Breathing is central to our posture and to the way we move. It has huge influence on our appearance, health, mental outlook, emotional resilience, and capacity to manage stress. Dysfunctional breathing is so rampant in Western culture that is amounts to an epidemic. -Mary Bond
4. Breathing deeply massages the heart.
Expansion and contraction of your lungs massages your heart as you breathe. At the same time, your diaphragm pulls and pushes on your heart from below, assisting blood flow. When your spine is extended by your use of good breathing mechanics, the fascial envelope around the heart stretches, contributing to the balance of pressures around this essential organ. Healthy posture and breathing actually support your heart. -Mary Bond
5. Breathing deeply becomes a whole body experience.
Because your lungs and breathing muscles have fascial connections (connective tissue) to every other part of your body, the expansion and contraction of breathing occurs everywhere. Your forearms, fingers, neck, thighs, and ankles all swell and shrink. -Mary Bond
6. Benefit of Deep Breathing: Improved digestion.
Mouth breathers tend to inhale while eating and drinking. If you notice yourself gulping air along with your orange juice, you need to set aside some mealtimes during which you pay attention to breathing. Open your mouth to eat and drink during the pause after an exhalation. Inhale after you’ve swallowed the liquid. Eating practice will slow down your eating as well as your breathing. The cultivation of relaxed eating habits interrupts the habit of over breathing and contributes to better digestion as well. -Mary Bond
7. Breathing deeply helps us reach your potential well-being.
Research has shown that most people use only a small fraction of their breathing potential. Restricted breathing decreases the flow of oxygen to the body. By breathing more efficiently you will experiences a new sense of well-being with improved zest and vitality. And for you, parents: You will also become a more calming presence for your baby. -Beverly Stokes
8. Deep breathing helps with muscle tension and pain.
Holding the breath is one of the most common breathing problems. This often occurs when people are tense, concentrating, or trying to hear what someone is saying. -Beverly Stokes
9. Breathing deeply unlocks your movement potential.
As the first developmental pattern in the infant, breathing is the foundation, a ground base, for all other patterns which follow. Wherever the breathing is blocked in the body, future patterns will be blocked; wherever the breathing is free, the future pattern will develop efficiently. -Peggy Hackney
10. Breathing deeply is the first step toward empathy.
Conscious cultivation of breath is recognized in many cultures to be an important part of attuning to a spiritual connection between the individuals and the universe. Healing of the Body-Mind is directly connected with restoring full function respiration. -Peggy Hackney
Personal Inventory: Your Breathing Patterns
Take a deep breath in. Don’t worry about doing it “right.” Rather, just notice what you are already doing.
- Where in your body do you feel the expansion of the inhale? Or the release at exhale?
- Does your breath seem shallow and short or long and deep?
- Is there a natural pause in between breaths? Does that pause make you feel calm or anxious?
I’m not here to get into the actual anatomy of breathing, although, it is quite fascinating. If you have a good anatomy book, go ahead and read about it. If not, the internet is full of great resources if you are willing to sift through it. If you’re really excited to learn more about this fundamental health aspect and how to apply it to everything else you do sign up for my Inside Out course (you can learn about that here.)
What I would like to provide today are a few simple questions to ask yourself, followed by some tips to help you find a better way to breathe (and a better way to be).
3 Things to consider about your breath:
Are you a nose or mouth breather?
Especially during the “sick season,” making sure that you are breathing through your nose rather than your mouth is essential. Your nose is designed for breathing—with an important filtration system built right inside of your nostrils. Breathing through your mouth brings in all sorts of microscopic “foreign objects” and germs into your body. Plus, nose breathing engages your diaphragm and lower ribs, drawing the air deep into your lower lungs where oxygen absorption is most efficient.
Are you a chest or abdominal breather?
While it is true that the lungs play a vital part in the breathing process, if we don’t feel our breath in our belly we are missing a vital link to the overall process. The diaphragm is an important muscle in respiration. It is actually through the pulling down of the diaphragm (which causes the belly to move out) that allows the lungs to pull air in. If you watch a baby breath you will see the beautiful movement of the belly with each breath.
Of course your ribs also play an important role in breathing. Most people are missing the beautiful widening of the ribs that comes with deep breathing. The muscles in between the ribs can move and adapt, although many people hold on to that whole rib “cage” idea too much – deadening that whole area.
Breathing is a three-dimensional practice.
Where in your body do you feel tight or restricted?
Each cell in the body acts like a tiny lung. As your body pulls in oxygen it is carried through the bloodstream providing the cells with the nourishment it needs. With its permeable membrane, the cell takes in the life-nourishing oxygen and then releases any unwanted “stuff” back into the bloodstream which is carried back and breathed out as carbon dioxide. Understanding this allows us to realize that with each breath we can feel a subtle fluid motion in our entire body through our breath. Finding areas that seem tight or restricted and then “sending” our attention to those areas open up the flow of blood to nourish those areas.
Simple Breathing Exercises & Tips:
- Lie down and you hand on a belly – and then on the side of your ribs. If the concept of three-dimensional breathing is a difficult one for your body, start simple. Lie down on the floor and place your hand on the areas that feel tight or immobile. Don’t force anything, but see if you can find a resting breath that automatically allows those closed-off spaces to open up and move with each breath. Imagine the cells of the body underneath your hand. As you inhale, picture the cells expanding to take in healing oxygen. As you exhale, imagine the cells releasing the unwanted tension or pain out of your body. Do this for 5 minutes and notice the difference.
- Notice when your breathing habits change. The truth is that life is stressful. With stressful situations we have a tendency to tighten up and restrict our breath. Most of us know our situations that send us into that “fight or flight” mode. (Mine happens to be driving in bad traffic.) Being aware of tendencies allows us the opportunity for change.
- Take time each day to just focus on your breath. Providing ourselves just a few minutes each day to tune in and check out what’s going on provides valuable information and allows us the opportunity to change unwanted habits. I like to spend five minutes each morning, five minutes before bed, and (if I remember) a few minutes every hour while I’m at the computer. Close your eyes and breathe deeply as you turn on your computer, as your waiting in line at the grocery store, or when an annoying co-worker is bothering you. Small moments make huge differences.
- Take a class. Body/Mind practices like Yoga, Tai Chi, Bartenieff Fundamentals, etc. are great ways to reconnect our breath back into motion. By considering the whole body and its connected systems, holistic forms of fitness are proving to be beneficial on many levels. And hey, you can always try my Inside Out program for a great introduction to better breathing techniques (and a more in-depth look at why it matters.)
Try a few of these tips and let me know what works for you.
Of all the benefits of deep breathing…
My favorite is to reduce stress and find peace.
Breath bridges the border between conscious and unconscious – mind and body. Taking a few minutes each day to breath deeply and settle into that most primal and foundational element of our being is powerful.
So work on being mindful of your breath in everyday situations – take that time to focus on breathing deeply. Just wait to see the changes it brings to your life and health.
Want to learn more about the power of breath? Check out the books that contain these gems:
- The Science of Breath by Yogi Ramacharaka
- The New Rules of Posture by Mary Bond
- Amazing Babies by Beverly Stokes
- Making Connections by Peggy Hackney
And of course, learn more about the power of restoring your natural movement patterns, including your breath, in my online training program. Click here to learn more.