Why Do We Need To Breathe
Everyday functions of the body like digesting your food, moving your muscles or even just thinking, need oxygen. When these processes happen, a gas called carbon dioxide is produced as a waste product. The job of your lungs is to provide your body with oxygen and to get rid of the waste gas, carbon dioxide. They are also responsible for getting rid of other gases such as nitrogen that your body produces while breathing in air (nitrogen makes up 78% of our atmosphere).
Breathing is an involuntary function performed by the lungs, which is necessary to keep your body alive. It’s an important process because it provides life-giving oxygen to every cell in your body through blood circulation, helps you to stay fit and energized, and keeps us alert. In fact, without proper ventilation we would die within minutes. This vital function can be controlled voluntarily but most people don’t realize how much control they have over their breath. Most of us use less than half of our lungs capacity when we breathe making it inefficient and ineffective.
The average person breathes about 14 times per minute. That means each time you take a deep breath you inhale around 10 gallons of air! You may think this is normal since your brain tells you all day long that you’re taking a big gulp of air. However, if you were to count the number of breaths you took during one hour, you’d find out that your lungs only absorbed 2/3rds of the available oxygen from the air you breathed in!
This is why taking several short shallow breaths throughout the day will do more good for you than the same amount of air intake taken in two large gulps. Your breath has a huge impact on both your health and performance. It affects your mental state and mood, reduces pain, increases energy levels and improves concentration.
How does breathing affect your mood? Studies show that when you feel anxious or stressed, your breathing becomes shallower and faster. If your breathing slows down too far, then your heart rate can increase and your blood pressure can go up. So, slow, deep and regular breathing is essential to maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. A study published in 2007 found that when children aged 5-14 practiced deep breathing exercises, their cortisol levels decreased significantly compared to a group who didn’t practice any breathing techniques. Cortisol is known as “the stress hormone” and elevated levels of it cause anxiety and depression. Deep breathing decreases stress hormones and promotes relaxation.
So what happens when your breath gets shallow? What causes a lack of oxygen to your cells? And how can you tell when your breath is becoming shallow?
What Happens When Your Breath Gets Shallow?
When your breath is not properly ventilated, the oxygen level in your blood drops causing hypoxia – a shortage of oxygen to your tissues. At first the symptoms are subtle but after prolonged periods of hypoxia the effects become serious enough to start having noticeable side effects. For example, some people develop headaches or tightness in the chest due to insufficient oxygen. Other individuals suffer from dizziness, fatigue, loss of memory, poor vision, confusion, slurred speech, muscle weakness, nausea, tinnitus, constipation, dry mouth and impaired coordination. These problems typically occur when the oxygen level in your blood falls below 12%.
In addition, many diseases are related to low levels of oxygen in the bloodstream. According to Dr. Robert Huizenga, Medical Director at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta Georgia, hypoxia plays a major role in the development of cardiovascular disease. He says that chronic hypoxia leads to atherosclerosis, coronary artery plaque buildup, clogged arteries and ultimately heart attacks. Hypoxia is also linked to hypertension and high cholesterol, stroke, diabetes and cancers.
How Can You Tell If Your Breath Is Getting Shallower?
It’s easy to recognize whether you’re getting sufficient oxygen when you breathe. But how do you know whether your breath is too shallow or not? There are three main signs indicating when your breath is no longer efficient. First, when you exhale there should always be a slight pause between the end of your exhalation and inhalation. Second, you’ll notice that sometimes when you breathe deeply your abdomen expands outward and your shoulders rise upward. Third, when you breathe normally, your stomach doesn’t move up and down with each breath. These signs indicate that your diaphragm is relaxed, which allows your lungs to fill with more oxygen.
If you notice any of these signs when you breathe, then your breath is probably shallow. On the other hand, if your stomach stays flat against your chest and rises together with your chest when you inhale and exhale, then your breath is likely deep.
Deep breathing also gives you better posture and prevents backaches. By expanding your rib cage and lowering your shoulder blades, your lungs naturally lift up and expand instead of sinking downward into your upper torso. This positions them higher above your spinal cord and relieves the tension in your lower back. Inhaling and exhaling slowly and fully relaxes your neck and spine muscles and promotes better posture.
Benefits Of Deep Breathing Exercises
As mentioned before, deep breathing exercises help improve your health and wellbeing. Here are 3 great benefits of practicing deep breathing exercises:
Relaxes your body & calms your mind – Practicing deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Once activated, the parasympathetic system slows down your heart beat, lowers your blood pressure and stabilizes your digestive tract. It also releases anti-stress hormones that promote calm and relaxation. The act of taking a few deep breaths stimulates the release of powerful anti-aging and healing neurochemicals called Endorphins. Endorphins make you feel happy, confident, peaceful, and relaxed.
Improves your focus – Taking a few deep breaths triggers the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in your brain. Dopamine and norepinephrine reduce mental distraction and sharpen your attention, while Serotonin regulates sleep patterns and controls appetite.
Increases endurance & stamina – Deep breathing exercises increases the activity of your respiratory pump, the cilia lining of your lungs, which helps eliminate toxins and removes particles from your lungs. It also increases the production of red blood cells, and strengthens your heart.
Improves your ability to concentrate – When you breathe deeper, your body automatically takes in more oxygen, which supports better cognitive functioning. Practice deep breathing exercises daily for 15-20 minutes and see how your focus and ability to concentrate gradually improve.
Practice deep breathing exercises regularly for best results
For maximum benefit, practice deep breathing exercises consistently and on a daily basis. Remember that you can never stop improving. As with everything else in life, there is always room for growth. No matter where you are now, you can always strive to become a better version of yourself. Your breath is no exception. With consistent practice, your breath will grow healthier and stronger.
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