Our life on earth starts with breathing.
We breathe without ever thinking about it until we have trouble in breathing.
The years 2020 and 2021 (the last two years) have been clouded with the curse of COVID-19. It has caused immense or sometimes lasting harm to the lungs and other organs. Lungs are the common areas being severely affected by corona. That has made us realize the importance of proper breathing more than ever.
Why do we breathe?
The main function of breathing is to inhale oxygen to replenish the body with energy. It also clears our mind and helps strengthen the muscles. Unfortunately with all the stress surrounding our lives we forget to breathe properly.Many factors lead to the type of shallow breathing that we become accustomed to.
Yet breathing and our respiratory system are directly connected with our mental and physical well-being.
Breathing is closely connected to our posture. Our life pattern as students or even office goers has led us to sit in a hunched position leaving our lungs distorted. Thus our lungs get compressed and our rib cage cannot expand effectively. As a consequence, breathing becomes shallow.
Most of us often don’t do enough physical exercise leading to obesity. The excessive abdominal fat also obstructs the movements of the diaphragm that helps us to inhale and exhale. This leads to bad breathing. We start taking rapid breaths. As a result it lowers carbon dioxide and reduces calcium and potassium levels in the blood;decreases blood flow to the brain and pH levels rise in the blood. These factors may lead to harmful health consequences like spasms and seizures to fainting, numbness, increased heart rate and an inability to control our emotions.
On the other hand proper breathing has innumerable health benefits.
All the systems in the body depend on oxygen. Proper breathing helps in mental clarity and well-being, improves digestion and our immune system. It regulates the nervous system and blood pressure. It also helps in bringing the proper amount of oxygen that the body needs to work and flushes out toxic substances. Our diaphragm muscles get weak as we age, but proper breathing strengthens these muscles, resulting in improved functioning of blood flow to the lungs, heart, and digestive organs.Proper breathing exercises nourish the cells better including brain cells, and strengthen the vagal tone which directs each heartbeat. These regulate our emotions and controls physiological and psychological reactions to anxiety and stress, leading to mental peace which helps us to sleep better.This can also minimize frequency of panic attacks.Stress can cause depression which may fuel anger and fear. Thus stress control can help in control in gall these negative emotions. Oxygenating the body also helps the muscles to flex and promotes the performance of athletes.Breathing exercises practiced regularly help in correct posture too.
Normally people focus on inhaling but exhale only 70 percent of the carbon dioxide in the lung. It is very important to exhale the air out of the lungs for instant energy.The key to healthy respiration is full and relaxed inhalation and slow exhalation. Proper breathing helps air to travel into the lungs properly and lets carbon dioxide to move out.
Unfortunately, without realizing we become used to chest breathing. To shift from chest to abdominal breathing a good posture is needed. Sit straight in a chair to allow the lungs to expand effectively with each breath, relax your shoulders and chest and push your stomach muscles up and out gently and slowly as you inhale, creating a natural vacuum in your lungs for just the right amount of air. Pause. Gently and slowly exhale to relax your stomach muscles in and down as if slowly letting air out of a balloon.
Once you have learned the technique of proper breathing. You can incorporate some of the following breathing exercises in your everyday routine.
1. Water Breathing:slowly and gently inhale through your nose as if slowly filling a balloon with air for 5 seconds, and then exhale slowly through your nose for 5 seconds. Pause and repeat 4-5 times.
A different version of this is Box breathing
Breathe in through the nose for a count of 5, hold for 5 then breathe out for 5 and again hold for five before breathing in again. If possible, practice for at least two minutes regularly throughout the day.
2. Coffee breathing: simply inhale for 5 seconds, and then exhale for 10 seconds.Repeat for two minutes or longer if you can. Once you can do coffee breathing, you can skip water breathing but box breathing can be continued.
3.Sneeze breathing: inhale for a few seconds then exhale as if you are clearing your nose while still keeping your mouth close. Do this exhale for 20 counts continuously. Don’t inhale in between. Do this at least 3-4 times back to back each time. With regular practice, you can slowly increase the 20 counts to 30 counts.
4. Purse lip breathing:inhale slowly through your nose then exhale with your mouth as if blowing a candle with force at a distance. Pause and repeat. Repeat 4-5 times.
5. Burst breathing: inhale as much air as you can and then throw the air out through your mouth as if puffing forcefully (just let out the air from mouth saying pha). Repeat 4-5 times
6. Humming breathing:Sit straight, on the edge of your bed or on a chair. Close the frontal lobe of your ears, with your thumbs. Keep your lips closed and touch the roof of your mouth with your tongue. Inhale through your nose until your lungs are full, keep your lips closed and exhale while making the sound ‘hmmmmmmm’ as long as you can. Repeat 4-5 times back to back. You can do this set twice a day. Humming produce snitric oxide in the body which helps in building and repairing the nervous system. NO expands blood vessels enabling more oxygen throughout the body. It also reduces stress.
Practice these diaphragmatic breathing techniques every day to for your overall well-being.
With all the stress in our lives, shallow chest breathing has become ingrained in us. This can be changed once we realise the immense health benefits of proper breathing.
Embrace a healthy lifestyle with proper breathing and be the best version of yourself.
Happy and Healthy Breathing!
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own. It is not intended as a substitute for consultation with a licenced healthcare practitioner.
-Tasneem Hossain is a poet, columnist, op-ed columnist and training consultant. She is the director of Continuing Education Centre, Bangladesh.