Proper Breathing is Essential to Good Health

01 December, 2019

When it come to managing your daily stress, it all comes down to your breathing. A proper breathing technique will help calm you down and recover.

If you are relaxed and in control, you will be breathing through your belly. However, when you're stressed, your body will start to chest breath. This is an automatic reflex and is part of our Fight or Flight conditioning we've had since the early ages of man but in a much harsher world. The stress encountered by you day to day may not compare to fighting for your life, but your nervous system in reality can't tell the difference. Stress is stress.

Our central nervous system (CNS, the brain and spinal cord) branches off to the peripheral nervous system (everything from our muscle control to the functioning our organs) which in turn, branches off into two other nervous systems, the somatic and the autonomic nervous system. The somatic nervous system controls your voluntary movement throughout the body, while the autonomic nervous system controls the systems you don't need to think about that keep you alive everyday, such as blood flow, glands and hormones.

Now the autonomic nervous system branches off again into two additional categories: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system activates your fight or flight response and ideally should shut off when your stress levels return to normal. However, if you are under constant levels of high stress, the sympathetic nervous system may not turn off unless you intervene. The sympathetic nervous system in preparation of the fight or flight response will prioritize which body functions are deemed important and those that are not. Your muscles will remain tense and your breathing short and shallow. Your heart rate and blood pressure will increase. Anything to do with digestion from your mouth to your bowels will be turned off, possibly with the urge to empty. Your mind will be hyperactive. When stress becomes a chronic issue for you, it could lead to a host of health issues. 

In a constant state of high alert, your body will be exhausted unless you intervene. This is where the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, but you have to let it. Under the parasympathetic nervous system, all normal body functions work as they should. There are many ways to initiate the parasympathetic nervous system, it just takes will and being aware of what your body is going through. The first place to start is to assess your breathing.  A proper breathing technique plays an important role in the parasympathetic nervous system and bringing calm back into your life. 

If you're in a stressful period, you need to break free to a quiet space where you can focus on you. If you have something coming up that is driving that stress, you may want to wait until afterwards. Right now, this isn't about clearing your mind but just being aware of how your body is dealing with the stress you're going though and changing the way you breath. Ideally, sit back in a chair, feet on the floor and breath normally. place your left hand on your lower ribcage and feel the sensation of whether your hand is rising and lowering with each breath. Is it doing this? Place your right hand on your stomach and continue breathing as you were. Is your right hand rising and lowering with your stomach? If your left hand is moving and your right is not, this is chest breathing. This is the sympathetic nervous system activated and you will need to shut it off as soon as possible when you find yourself in a moment of calm. To do this, take a long slow breath through your nose and breath into your stomach, making your right hand rise. Exhale slowly being mindful of how your hand lowers with it. Repeat several times and be aware of the calm that you now find yourself in. You have now activated the parasympathetic nervous system. As long as you can maintain your belly breathing, you will remain there. You should practice this often throughout the day. If you are a chronic chest breather, this exercise will not be easy for you, you may even shrug it off. But if you want to bounce back from the stress in your life and take control, this is your first step. 

I would like to bring up the next steps to managing your stress in another blog, but this is a good start for many. Eventually, you will be aware of your breathing pattern and correct it easily. The key is to be self-aware and to act accordingly. This is how you maintain good health. 

Until next time. 

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