Here are a few things we continue to take for granted in 2021: Mother’s care, friends’ support, nature, physical health (in our 20s), and our mental health (it still has a lot of stigmas attached to it). Another thing that we collectively take for granted, so much so that I even forgot to mention it in the list above, is our breathing. Just like all the other things on the list, breathing never gets its due, as it doesn’t demand our full attention to get those lungs pumping. The essence of life, breathing, is controlled by medulla oblongata (in the brain) and the lung function support is provided by the surrounding muscles. So, if we are able to live perfectly fine without giving the process much heed, why does it need to change? Where does the problem lie? Well, the problem lies in the quality of our breathing.
Thanks to today’s stressful times and a sedentary lifestyle, our breathing mechanism is one of short and quick, using the intercostal muscles around the ribs to support lung function rather than allowing our diaphragm to do it properly. As a result of this fast-paced, anxiety-driven world, a very low amount of air reaches our lungs, which in turn means low oxygen and minerals are transported to different parts of the body. But there’s hope since we do have some control over our breathing! We just have to pay attention.
Deep breathing, is allowing the diaphragm to contract and make room for the lungs to expand, as we breathe. It is also called belly breathing and it looks like an expanding torso rather than just the chest. Before we get into how it’s done or what are the benefits, let us have a look at how chest breathing does us more harm than good.
Shallow breathing is an accompaniment of anxiety, anger, or fear, as it follows the necessary changes in the heart rate and blood pressure. So if that is how you breathe most of the time, apart from providing less oxygen to your organs, you’re also brainwashing the body to be in an anxious state constantly. Even when the situation doesn’t demand your hyper-vigilance, you’re breathing in the same way you would – rapid and shallow, in a flight-or-fight situation.
Now, let’s see the benefits we get by breathing in deep.
- A deep breath into the lungs ensures that a higher content of oxygen is delivered to the organs and muscles, thereby significantly improving your energy levels, functioning of the organs, muscle strength, enhanced repairing process of the cells amongst other benefits.
- It’s an effective, time-tested technique to reduce stress levels by lowering blood pressure and heart rate. It stimulates the parasympathetic division of our autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is responsible for relaxing our body post a stressful situation, introducing a “rest and digest” state. Reduced stress level leads to improved immunity, promotes a general sense of wellbeing and contentment with life.
- Lie down on the floor or sit in a comfortable position
- Put one hand on the chest and one on your belly
- Breathe in through the nose for 4 counts and watch the hand on your belly move outwards as the inflowing air expands your torso. Meanwhile, the hand on the chest shouldn’t move as much, telling us that we didn’t raise our chest and allowed the diaphragm breathing to kick in.
- Exhale through the mouth for 4 counts or more, slowly and steadily. The hand on abdomen comes back to its starting position.
- Repeat these steps to get a hang of it.
The covid-19 virus got us all thinking about different ways to keep ourselves healthy, especially our lungs. Healthy meals and workouts have their reputable positions intact on the list of “must-dos”, but the value of diaphragmatic breathing was recognized way back and is part of the meditation and yoga practices for ages now. The air costs us nothing. Although giving attention to your breathing may seem like a vain task in today’s ultra-productive world, but seeing the benefits that come with it, it seems worth it ; You deserve these quality breaths for sure!