Breathing and alterations in our breathing pattern can affect our health. There are many art forms that have a focus on proper breathing. Proper breathing is an important part of Martial Arts, Yoga, Tai Ji Chuan and Qi Gong. Have you ever noticed how your breathing pattern changes when you’re sleeping or when you’re laughing or feeling depressed? Breathing does more than just oxygenate the body. Breathing removes Carbon Dioxide, helps blood circulation, aids in the control of the proper PH in the body. Hyperventilation is an excess inhalation of oxygen without a balanced exhalation or exchange of carbon dioxide. This can quickly change the PH balance of our body. Any minute changes in the delicate PH (acid-base balance) balance of our bodies can be very harmful. Breathing into a paper bag decreases the amount of oxygen rapidly entering the lungs and alleviates hyperventilation.
Breathing can be affected by the quality of the air around us, our emotional and mental state, and very typically by body posture. During a proper deep breath the diaphragm pulls downward causing the lungs to descend and expand. The inside surface of the lungs is filled with alveoli which diffuse oxygen and carbon dioxide across a membrane that is shared by the pulmonary capillaries which eventually leads to the heart. If you could stretched out the alveoli so the entire inner surface of the lungs could be flatten it would be comparable to the size of a tennis court. A slouching posture impedes the full expansion of our lungs thereby decreasing the intake capacity. During inhalation the abdomen should rise and expand and during exhalation the abdomen will fall and relax. Sitting up straight or standing tall will promote a natural and deeper breath because the abdominal region is not compressed and will give less resistance to the descention of the lungs on inhalation.
There are many benefits to deep breathing over shallow breathing. When we feel tired we have a natural reaction to yawn and stretch. The body circulation has become stagnate and the body is naturally trying to open up to increase circulation. Deeper breathing opens and relaxes the body and improves circulation. As the lungs expand and descend it gently massages the surrounding organs, glands, muscles, blood vessels and other various structures. Blood vessels such as veins, which are responsible for recycling blood back to the heart and lungs aren’t pressurized like the arteries that are pressurize by the pumping action of the heart. Muscle contraction and body movement helps circulate venous blood within the veins. The heart and lungs are the two organs that are in constant motion even when the body is still. This gentle massaging action that comes from deep breathing impacts and aids the functioning of all the surrounding organs and tissue and helps maintain good circulation and functionality.
States of emotional distress alters our breathing patterns. Laughing causes us to exhale more. Crying can increase inhalation. These are all natural patterns of breathing but if we continued these patterns for a long period of time it can affect our general health. The common affects of stress has a way of continually altering our breathing patterns for longer periods of time causing tension that leads to systemic stagnation of our body’s circulation. Fibromyalgia is considered to be rooted in long term emotional upset that results in systemic stagnation and pain throughout the body. Regarding emotional disturbances, some consider stress to be the number one cause of disease in our society today. Being aware of improper breathing patterns and correcting them can relieve stress. You can take breaks for a few minutes here and there throughout your workday and do the following exercise. Sit quietly and relax your mind, place your hands on your abdomen, sit up straight so as not to compress your abdomen, breath in a long, gentle and relaxed manner. Feel your abdomen rise and fall. Continue until you feel centered, grounded and relaxed. You will feel a shift in your energy and your awareness. This exercise will shift your attention and awareness from a scattered position outside the body to a consolidated position centrally within the body. This is called returning to the source.
It’s important to remember that good health equals good circulation. Keeping the body open and avoiding stagnate posturing can develop good circulation and deeper breathing. So maintain a good posture, sit up straight, don’t compress your abdomen by slouching, relax and inhale deeply, and when stress comes your way don’t hang on to it just breath deeply – let it flow and then let it go.
Christopher Carlow, D. Ac. Doctor of Acupuncture Date: 8/19/05