Breathing - the Proper Technique
Breathing techniques and exercises are becoming an important part of almost all healing disciplines. Studies show that a proper inhale and exhale technique, if exercised at proper intervals, has measurable medical benefits to include stress reduction.
Dr. Andrew Weil received his MD from Harvard Medical School and has become an internationally recognized expert on mind-body interactions and is the author of nine books.
Dr. Weil says: "If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly."
Those are powerful words from a recognized expert in the field. Notice that he says "breathe correctly." Practitioners of Yoga have known for centuries about the importance of guided breathing, and Western cultures are now embracing the benefits of "breathing correctly."
An article by Carol Krucoff, "Better living through belly breathing" ran in The Seattle Times, May 10, 2000, section C3:
Slow, deep breathing is a powerful anti-stress technique. When you bring air down into the lower portion of the lungs, where the oxygen exchange is most efficient, heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases, muscles relax, anxiety eases and the mind calms.
Experts in the field of mind-body medicine say that few people in Western, industrialized society know how to breathe correctly. We are taught to suck in our guts and puff out our chests, which causes the muscles to tense and respiration rate to increase. As a result, we are a nation of shallow "chest breathers," who primarily use the middle and upper portions of the lungs. Babies breathe from the belly, but with age, most people shift from this healthy abdominal breathing to shallow chest breathing.
Breathing is the only bodily function you can do either consciously or unconsciously. Studies have linked focused breathing with reducing hot flashes in menopausal women, relieving chronic pain and reducing symptoms of PMS. Some hospitals have begun teaching relaxation breathing to patients treated for a wide range of conditions.
It is important to breathe in a sufficient volume of air and to hold it long enough for the lungs to take in Oxygen and to expel Carbon Dioxide. This O2/CO2 gas exchange is discussed in detail elsewhere on this site.
OK, it is good for you, but how do you breathe correctly? How often should you take a deep breath? What if breathing makes you dizzy? How do you remember to breathe at the right times?
All good questions. Let's take them one at a time:
How do you breathe correctly? As mentioned in the newspaper article above, the best oxygen exchanges take place in the lower lobes of the lungs. That's where the "belly breathing" comes from - breathing deep around the navel instead of the upper chest. Standing up straight, sucking in your gut, and sticking your chest out may be great for soldiers, but that is not what you want to accomplish when practicing correct breathing. The specific steps are on the next page, but for now, think about filling up your belly when you take in a deep breath.
How often should you take a deep breath as described?
- Too often and you actually can induce stress.
- Too seldom, and you fail to benefit from it.
At this point, you want to learn how to breathe correctly so it becomes natural and automatic to you. You will need to practice "doing it right" and most therapists agree that each breath should be performed correctly to achieve maximum benefit. I use a small device that I wear under my clothes that has a silent alarm that reminds me to breathe. It took a little "getting used to," but works as my breathing coach throughout the day.
It is important to breathe correctly, but not too much. As mentioned above, too much can make you dizzy. That is one of the big problems in a panic attack, the rapid, shallow breathing causes an oxygen overload, which actually gets you light-headed, and then fearful of that sensation (it feeds itself.)
Right now (and if you try this, please sit safely in a chair) if you take a full, deep breath and hold it a few seconds, and exhale slowly - and repeat this a few times - you will start to feel different and quite possibly dizzy. You can see how powerful a new breathing technique can be. If done correctly and at the proper intervals, instead of dizzy, you should begin to feel relaxed.
How do you remember to breathe at the right intervals? We mentioned this earlier, but remember that, with practice, you will learn how to breathe "correctly" all the time. It is important to learn how to inhale deep into your diaphragm, to learn how long to hold that breath, and then, how to slowly measure your exhale. This takes practice for it to become a natural part of your respiration. And, if done correctly and regularly, you will begin to receive positive health benefits such as lowered blood pressure, less stress, and a general relaxed state. With a timing device (such as a kitchen timer, the BreathMinder, etc.) you will remember to practice at correct intervals and soon, proper breathing will come naturally to you.
Helpful tools. . . .
- In Dr. Andrew Weil's self-healing series, proper breathing is considered the most important practice for healthy living. Dr. Weil not only teaches eight fundamental breathing exercises, but also keeps listeners entertained with anecdotes from his own medical practice. The entire production has the warm quality of listening to an interview, so it helps you to be more receptive to the methods he shares. Search Amazon or BooksaMillion for his 2-CD set and other books he has published on the many benefits of proper breathing.
- Remembering to breathe was one of my problems - I would get involved or focused on something or get busy at work and I'd forget to practice good breathing technique. I couldn't find a reminder that was small, uncomplicated, or silent, so I found a factory that would make one for me specifically for use as a breathing reminder. It is called The BreathMinder. BreathMinder is silent and worn under your clothing to help you remember to practice proper breathing techniques without attracting the attention of bystanders.
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For more information.
There are several web sites that describe proper breathing techniques where you can learn different types of breathwork. (Examples of programs with 100% money back are Tai Chi Breathing books and The Power of Breathing audio course.) Learning how to breathe properly is part of the picture - you also need to remember to do it. That's why I had to invent a breathing reminder for myself that I named The BreathMinder.
Page last updated October 7, 2012
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