In this month’s blog, I’ll continue my series of top tips for optimal wellness by focussing on breathing! The usual tips of eating a healthy diet, moving your body, and avoiding unhealthy habits (you smokers know what I mean!) are still important, but there are many other ways to improve and maintain your wellness. Breathing is a powerful tool for optimal wellness especially in the festive season!
As a child (especially the girls among us) you would probably have been told to hold your belly in, put your shoulders back, chest out and stand up straight. This may be OK for our posture but is terrible for our breathing. This posture, along with its opposite the ‘slumped over our work desk posture’ lead to us taking shallow chest breaths.
The main reason that this type of breathing is an issue, is because it reflects stress. In other words, it sends messages to our nervous system that we are stressed which causes us to breathe even more shallow. This leads to a vicious cycle of stress, shallow breathing and more stress.
Research earlier this year showed that there are neurons in our brain that link our state of mind to our breathing. When we breathe properly these neurons help increase our relaxation and attention and reduce anxiety. So, in other words you can change your mood simply by concentrating on your breath.
Breathing is an automatic function that keeps us alive. Luckily though, unlike our heartbeat or digestion, breathing is a bodily function we can consciously control.
The first step to breathing effectively is to pay attention to it. Be more breath aware in all aspects of your life, especially when you are both stressed and relaxed. Awareness is key to making a change in any aspect of our lives, including breathing. Exercise that incorporates the breathing such as yoga, Qi Gong, pilates and Tai chi are all good examples of exercise where breath is a big focus. A good teacher will show you how to breathe more effectively during these exercises which makes it easier to breathe correctly in everyday life.
Belly breathing is the answer to breathing correctly. By inhaling and expanding our belly muscles this means we are using our diaphragm correctly. The diaphragm is the muscle beneath your rib cage. When we breathe in correctly, our diaphragm helps fill our lungs with fresh air by pushing down into your belly. When we breathe out correctly the diaphragm releases up and our belly’s move in. Holding our belly’s in hamper this movement of the diaphragm which means we can’t breathe properly.
In addition, deep belly (or diaphragmatic) breathing activates the vagus nerve which is partly how breathing calms us. Low activity of the vagus nerve is linked to inflammation, depression, stress and poor emotional and attentional regulation. Whereas healthy vagus nerve activity is associated with positive emotions, reducing addiction and cravings and creating psychological balance.
Lastly, good breathing also helps reduce acidity in our body and make us more alkaline. Acidity in your body is well known to increase your risk of developing chronic disease.
Although more is better, even 1 minute of deep breathing a day will help. The most important time to breath are those times when we feel stressed. On that note, the festive break will likely give you a few extra opportunities to breathe so make the most of them. Have a happy and belly breathing Christmas and New Year break!
For an assessment of your breathing technique and acidity levels, talk to our medical team today. Please comment below with your top breathing tips.