The Importance Of Breathing
Our bodies are amazing things, we can stay alive for long periods of time without food, water and even sleep, but not without oxygen. But how much importance and thought do we give to this vital function? Do we realise just how important breathing is to our physical and mental health, and the reasons why?
Why Is Breathing Important?
Breathing brings us energy. We need to breathe to send oxygen into the cells in our body, which constantly need a new supply so they can produce energy. When breathing, we also allow our bodies to get rid of the waste products and toxins it creates, which can easily stagnate in our bodies and damage vital functions if not expelled.
Breathing is a curious process, unlike any other in the human body. We do this unconsciously for a large proportion of the time much like the blood flowing around our body, but at any given moment we can choose to change its rhythm. But surely we can’t get such a natural behaviour wrong?
Did You Know There Are Multiple Types Of Breathing?
A lot of you won’t know that most of us only use around a third of our actual breathing capacity. There are three main compartments to the lungs and for the most part we take shallow breaths that only involve the upper lobes (the top part of our lungs). It seems that with our stressful lives, like everything, we forget to take time to breathe as deeply as we should. Unfortunately it is not only adults who experience this stressful breathing, but children too. There are more pressures on children in many ways now compared to 10 or 20 years ago – in school, at home and with their friends. This can lead to children not breathing properly, which can have knock on effects to their concentration, behaviour and mental health.
There are several types of breathing but the majority of people breathe into their chest rather than their stomach. Throughout our lives we will have all experienced changes in our breathing patterns when processing different feelings, for example those of fear, anger, sorrow or physical exercise. Some of us sometimes unintentionally set up physical responses in our breathing when reacting to emotional triggers, for example when we see a spider!
Signs Of Poor Breathing
Some signs of poor breathing habits could include:
- Holding your breath
- Feeling short of breath
- Feeling the need to take a long breath
- Running out of breath
- Taking lots of short breaths
All of these are signs that our breathing is not quite right and if our breathing is short and quick, this can have a huge impact on your mental health. Oxygen feeds your mind after all, and if you are not giving your brain enough oxygen, then it cannot cope sufficiently with your emotions.
We have all had times where we have felt upset, our breathing quickens, we take shallow breaths, feel panicked and light headed. People’s advice is always to “take some deep breaths”, and they are right! Breathing deeply, inhaling slowly, filling your mind and body with oxygen calms us down, both physically but also mentally.
How Can I Breathe More Effectively And What Happens When I Do?
One of the best ways to learn how to breathe effectively, and to ensure you are helping your body and mind to work together, is through the use of breathing exercises.
If you have a child who is feeling stressed or overwhelmed, you can also teach them how to control their breathing. It is a great tool they can use whenever they need some time out to calm down or relax.
Here is a simple one that you can try at home:
- Take a seat on a chair adopting the 90 degree rule (chin at 90° to floor, hips at 90°, knees at 90° and ankles at 90°).
- Breath in through your nose for a count of four seconds, hold for two seconds and breathe out through the nose for a count of four.
- Really focus your energy and thoughts on your breathing with your hand on your stomach (notice that your stomach is moving rather than your chest, indicative that you are breathing deeply). Repeat several times.
Breathing brings our body and mind together and for both to function well, they need oxygen. By learning how to breathe well:
- You become healthier and stronger
- More endorphins are released which improves feelings of natural wellbeing
- Your muscles relax
- Heart rate and blood pressure decrease
- You can help control your emotions and fears
- Natural cleansing will take place allowing energy to be directed more productively
- Feelings of stress, anxiety and depression can reduce
- You will have a clearer and sharper mind
- You will feel more ‘present’ and more alive
Working In Harmony
As well as the physical benefits, we mustn’t overlook the power that deep breathing can have on your mental health. Deep breathing exercises are the basis of mindfulness and meditation, both based on the premise of bringing body and mind together, focussing all attention on the process of breathing in order to quiet the mind and stem the busy stream of thoughts causing us distress. When working in harmony, they can be a powerful weapon and breathing exercises are still to this day used as a pain management technique across the world.
So next time you feel yourself needing to draw deep breath, why not take five minutes to align your body and mind, give it the oxygen it so desperately needs to work well and try our easy exercise above? After all, without breath, we are nothing.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, Stepping into Freedom: Rules of Monastic Practice for Novices
You can read more about the importance of breathing and get tips and even more exercises to do at home in my Best Selling book, “Your Happy Child, 10 Proven Steps To Raising A Happy Child” – click here to buy your copy on Amazon or if you want a signed copy you can order directly from my website.