Need a second wind? How to use your breath for better health
"Breath is life. We should pay as much attention to it as any other aspect of beingness."
(Swami Nostradamus Virato)
We pay little attention to the way we breathe. Yet how we breathe is how we relate to life.
When we’re mentally trying to prepare for a big moment, we motivate ourselves to ‘take a deep breath’ before we plunge.
When we are stressed and overwhelmed, we calm ourselves by remembering to “just keep breathing”.
We think of a cheerful and positive person as a ‘breath of fresh air’ to an otherwise stale situation.
We talk about ‘exhale’ moments of relief where we are finally able to let go of unwanted emotions, people, circumstances.
When we feel a resurge of energy we never thought possible, we call it a ‘second wind’.
I can tell a lot about what’s going on for my clients by observing their breath.
Is it shallow and constricted? Maybe they’re having difficulty taking in life in a whole-hearted way. Perhaps whatever’s going of for them means their participation in life is limited.
Is their in-breath short and sharp, as if in a constant state of fright? What’s going on for them that’s filling them with fear, and how long have they been living in this state of anxiety?
Is their out-breath limited and empty? Perhaps there’s something they’re struggling to let go. I wonder what they’re holding on to and what will happen to that gap when they final allow it to leave…
Let’s stop here.
Take a long, full breath in through your nose. Feel your lungs expand upward and outward. See you belly round out. And when you are full to the brim, pause, smile, and then let it all go, slowly and in control. Every last bit. Let. It. Go.
Feeling good? Ok, now I can share 10 important facts about breathing
- Your cells need fresh oxygen so that they can produce energy – and you were wondering why you were tired!
- The carbon dioxide content in your body is just as important – we need the right balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide for good pH balance.
- Without proper oxygenated blood, your muscles can fatigue during workout - just one of the reason yogis are so obsessed with right breathing.
- Breathing allows your body to self-scan and self-heal – frequencies are observed, and adjustments made.
- Breathing impacts your immune system – increased vital energy allows better repair, faster healing and proper detoxification.
- Breathing allows movement of important body fluids, including lymph (think drainage) and cerebrospinal fluid (think nervous system!).
- By breathing through your nose, the nitric oxide made in the membranes can get to your lungs – this helps oxygen absorption and also helps kill lingering bacteria or viruses.
- Breathing through your mouth will affect your sense of taste, impacting appetite and possibly your weight.
- When your diaphragm expands with full breathing, it massages your internal organs and aids proper digestion.
- Poor breathing puts your body into a stress response – an almost constant state of hyperventilation and a major cause of anxiety.
Got that? Good breathing is one of the most basic and yet most impactful ways to improve your health.
So here are a few things you can start doing straight away:
- Get into the habit of using ‘dead time’ for mindful breathing. Instead of whipping out your phone and checking Instagram, take a few big in and out breaths, slowly and in control.
- Lie on your back. Place your hands on either side of your lower ribcage, fingers closed and pointing inwards. As you inhale, feel your fingers expand. Hold for a few moments. Feel your fingers close again as you allow a slow, gentle exhale. Keep practicing this full deep breathing until your fingers are able to separate properly as your lungs move upward and outward.
- Take up yoga. A good yoga teacher will help you perfect the art of breathing to maximize movement and build strength. Not to mention the oh-so-lovely relaxation response it creates.
For those of you who are dealing with ongoing anxiety (and I know there are lots of you who are), this is your number one starting point. Focus on the breath. Slow and steady. Long and full. Do it often and do it well.