Breathing is a natural phenomenon we often do not think too much about. However, the way we breathe can have a profound effect on your state of mind, stress levels and improving your general health.
Normal breathing involves activation of the muscles around the rib cage and the diaphragm to expand the chest wall. This is the in breath which creates a negative pressure within the lungs so that air is naturally drawn into the airways, filling and expanding the lungs so the oxygen can cross the very thin lung/blood barrier the blood in the lungs is oxygenated and then pumped off to other parts of the body. The breath out involves a relaxation of the chest wall with the deoxygenated air expelled from the lungs. And so, the cycle goes on.
When we breath in at normal levels our breath in is about 500 ml and not all the lung tissue expands. It is important for lung tissue to fully expand to prevent buildup of naturally occurring mucous in the lungs. The body however does vary the lung volumes throughout the day and aids this by yawning. It also occurs when we move around and exercise – when the lungs will fully expand. This is a necessary and good thing
When we experience high levels of stress and anxiety, our breathing patterns change. Our breathing can often become shallower and faster with the air deviating preferentially to the upper areas of the lungs. We also use the muscles around the neck to help with our breathing in times of stress. This is not a problem for short and appropriate periods of time – but if it goes on for extended period, our health can suffer. Blood pressure can increase, with less efficient oxygenation of the body, and our breathing patterns alter permanently using the muscles around the upper chest and neck.
Controlled breathing exercises can help. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. It helps to lower blood pressure, promote feelings of calm and relaxation, and relieve overall stress levels.
Try this exercise daily to help your breathing patterns and improve stress levels:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor or upright in a chair comfortably supported.
- Place your hands on the lower part of your stomach.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose, taking the air right down into the base of your lungs. You should feel your stomach push out against your hands
- Breathe out through your mouth, gently tensing the stomach muscles under your hands until your lungs are completely emptied. You should feel your stomach push out into your hands as you inhale and pull inwards as you exhale.
- Repeat the deep inhaling and exhaling.
Hope this helps