Every Breath We Take
16 breaths per minute, on average. That equates to 960 an hour, 23,040 a day, 8,409,600 a year and 672,768,000 breaths over the course of an average lifetime.
You’d think, with all that practice, that we’d be good at it. But we’re not. When it comes to breathing, most of us are hopeless and it’s making us sick.
Why Don’t We Breathe Properly?
In large part, our modern lifestyle is to blame. Stress is a constant factor in our lives and too many of us are busy being sedentary. We sit at our desks, we hunch over our computers, and we take short, sharp sips of breath as we try to navigate the various strands of our lives.
And, of course, we breathe unconsciously. It takes little effort and absolutely no thought. With so much else going on in our lives, something which can be done without thinking is to be celebrated. We can put it to one side, not worry about it.
Trouble is, proper, healthy breathing requires some conscious effort.
Why Does Poor Breathing Contribute To Poor Health?
Most of us are only using one third of our natural lung capacity. Instead of using our diaphragms as our main breathing muscle, we rely on the weaker intercostal muscles in our rib cage. The result is that we breathe too shallow and too quick. We’re not drinking in the amount of oxygen that we should and we’re not ridding ourselves of sufficient carbon dioxide.
And so we become subject to ill health. Starved of oxygen, which is vital for the production of energy and for the maintenance of healthy cells, our bodies experience a toxic build-up. This not only impacts on our levels of vitality, but also lowers our ability to resist disease. As a result, we become susceptible to a whole host of problems, including fatigue, chest and back pain, sleep disorders and stomach upsets, whilst other conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and hypertension can be exacerbated.
So How Do I Breathe Properly?
A necessary starting point to breathing properly is to make it a conscious action. We need to be aware, first of all, of how we breathe and, on the back of this, what we must do in order to breathe better.
For the vast majority of us, the problem is that we breathe from our chest, rather than our abdomen. We need to learn to breathe more deeply, utilising our diaphragm and pulling more air into our lungs.
There are many different breathing techniques which will help us to do this, but like any new skill, it is best to start with the basics and work from there. In order to breathe properly, and in a way which will have a positive impact on your well-being, you might like to try these three simple steps:
* First of all, lie down on a blanket or rug, your legs straight and slightly apart, your arms relaxed at your sides, palms facing the air. Alternatively, you can sit up straight with your back upright and spine lengthened.
* Once you are comfortable, make a conscious effort to breathe through your nose, your mouth closed. This will allow the tiny hairs and the mucus membranes in your nose to do their job and filter out dust and toxins, something which does not happen if we breathe through our mouths.
* Inhale deeply, making sure that the abdomen rises along with the chest, as though your stomach is a balloon filling with air.
* Retain the breath even if for a second only If properly performed, even brief retention of breath provides profound therapeutic benefits to every organ, gland and functional system in the body. In actual breathing exercises breath retention for 3-4 seconds slows down heart beat, reduces blood pressure substantially, and triggers cellular respiration.
* After inhaling for 3 to 4 seconds, exhale slowly for 7 to 8 seconds, ensuring you release as much air as possible. Repeat for approximately five minutes, remaining completely relaxed and engaged in the simple process of breathing properly.
After a while, this kind of breathing will not only seem natural to you, but will bring with it a sharp increase in your sense of vitality and well-being. You will become more conscious of how you should be breathing, will more readily correct your posture when you begin to slouch in front of your computer or on your sofa, and you will be better equipped to handle stressful situations.
Given time, you might also choose to discover more advanced breathing techniques, or even take up yoga, which places a great deal of focus on proper breathing and the benefits it can provide. Yoga is in fact integrally linked with the yogic science of Pranayama. Prānāyām is a Sanskrit word meaning “extension of the prāṇ or breath” or, “extension of the life force”.
Breathing. It’s something we do a lot. It makes sense then, that we should do it well.