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This One Thing You Do Every Day Prolongs Your Life When You Do It Right
Breathing – it’s perhaps one thing you do every minute of every day and never give it a second thought until you have problems with it. Even your doctor won’t pay attention to it unless you tell him that you can’t catch your breath or if it is affecting your pH levels.
Increasing the respiration rate per minute is your body’s natural response to stress and anxiety. When our breathing increases, we increase oxygen intake while decreasing our carbon dioxide levels in preparation for an emergency situation.
When we are stressed out, the age old cliché of “just breathe” seems terribly oversimplified and out of date, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Correct and mindful breathing can actually lead to a longer life. Incorrect breathing is nothing more than a bad habit that can easily be converted into proper, rhythmic abdominal breathing. This is the body’s natural state.
Although the body has other functions that go on without conscious thought, such as digestion or blood flow, the fact is that we cannot alter those functions no matter how hard we try. Breathing, however, is something that we do have some control over. We can hold our breath, but we can’t “hold” our digestive process! Our respiration may be managed in the unconscious, but, we can take the reins at any time.
Since we are breathing at all times, the strangeness of this dual control system doesn’t usually give most of us a second thought, but perhaps we should. Since we can change our breathing, at least to some extent, we can change how breathing affects the body.
Paced respiration, sometimes called controlled breathing or deep breathing, has been a part of Eastern health practices for centuries. Regardless of what you want to call deep breathing, the function is a fuller exchange of oxygen. This means that more oxygen is entering the body, and therefore, more carbon dioxide leaves the body.
Although the basics are described in numerous ways, the mechanics of it are simple:
1. Inhaling deeply through the nose and expanding the abdomen
2. Holding the breath for a moment
3. Exhaling completely through the mouth, usually for a longer count than the inhalation.
So for example, you would inhale through the nose, extending the abdomen for a count of four, hold for a count of one, then exhale through the mouth for a count of six.
Controlled breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system into life and counters the sympathetic nervous system, our natural fight or flee response to stress.
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There are five scientific based reasons for giving some attention to our breathing and practicing controlled breathing:
1. Managing Anxiety
Since controlled breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, it also stimulates the vagus nerve. This is the nerve that runs from the base of the brain to your abdomen. This nerve is responsible for the lowering, or increase in heart rate, as well as for mediating the response of the nervous system, as well as other functions. A feeling of increased focus and calm occurs when the vagus nerve is stimulated as it releases a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. The vagus nerve also plays some role in depression, although scientists are not exactly sure what that role is.
2. Managing Stress Levels
One of the major benefits of controlled breathing is stress relief or stress management. Your brain is always on the lookout for possible threats to your survival. We are wired to react in a defensive manner to anything that appears to be a threat to us, whether that threat is physical or psychological. Controlled breathing is your most important tool when it comes to preventing stress overload. This natural means of relaxing both mind and body is a built-in, completely free, super effective tool for keeping stress levels at a minimum.
3. Lowers Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
When practiced regularly, studies have shown that deep breathing results in lower heart rates and blood pressure levels which over time, leads to less wear and tear on the blood vessels. Using deep breathing can aid in the prevention of heart attacks, strokes, and the risk of cerebral aneurysm. This can lead to a greatly prolonged lifespan.
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4. Stimulates Brain Growth
If you practice deep breathing for no other reason, this is the one to do it for! Research has shown that deep breathing exercises actually increase the size of the brain. When done regularly, our brains actually grow in areas that are associated with the processing of sensory input, as well as attention span. Although this seems to be more noticeable in older persons, this is still terrific news. As we age, our brains tend to get thinner and less flexible. Studies show that deep breathing increases the thickness of the brain. The key appears to be consistent practice.
5. Improved Immune Function
One thing that researchers did not expect to find was that deep breathing also altered the expression of genes that are involved in immune function. They also discovered that deep breathing alters the metabolism of energy and the secretion of insulin. Although this isn’t the first study to suggest these types of positive changes (the first was back in the mid-1970’s) but one 2008 study found that long term deep breathing practices resulted in changes to the expression of genes that are linked with how the body reacts to stress and disease.
Other studies have shown that lab animals who had higher respiratory rates had shorter life spans. For example, rabbits, who breathe between 40 and 60 times each minute have an average lifespan of about 8 years. Dogs, on the other hand, breathe approximately 15 to 30 times each minute and live between 13 and 20 years. Now look at the giant whales or tortoises, who have respiratory rates of about 3 to 8 times each minute. They can live as long as 150 years!
READ ALSO: 3 Magical Breathing Exercises Video
Numerous studies have shown that there is a correlation between slower respiratory rates and longevity, including the health benefits listed above. All of these things show that deep breathing is not some “New Age Nut” practice, but a health habit that we should all consider doing on a regular basis.