It’s time to take a nice, deep breath and learn about proper breathing and why it’s essential to your overall health. Did you know you take an average of 20,000 breaths every day? That’s a lot of breathing, and getting it right is important. Not only is your breathing essential for oxygen intake and staying alive, but proper breathing boasts many other benefits as well.
What is Breathing?
If you’re reading this, chances are about 100% that you’re breathing right now. Breathing is one of those things that’s vital to our existence. Yet we tend to give it very little thought. After all, it’s an automatic function. Clearly, breathing is necessary for life, but it’s more complex of an operation than you might assume.
What is involved in taking a breath, and how does it affect your body? It all starts with the lungs.
What are the Lungs?
Your lungs are comprised of two lobes that are part of an advanced structure called the “respiratory system.” They reside within your ribcage and take in the oxygen you breathe. Within the lungs are bronchi, bronchioles, and alveoli (tubes and air sacs) that assist in absorbing the oxygen you breathe and depositing it into your bloodstream. In turn, your blood then distributes these oxygen molecules throughout your body.
What Muscles Are Used For Breathing?
You may be tempted to think the lungs are the only things required to breathe, but you’d be sorely mistaken. Breathing may start with the lungs, but it doesn’t stop there. You actually have an entire respiratory “system” comprised of other muscles as well, namely:
- Diaphragm—you may associate this muscle with breathing (or hiccups—the involuntary contractions of the diaphragm), and you’d be correct. The diaphragm is a large muscle located under your lungs, which separates your thorax and your abdomen. It helps you breathe by contracting to create a vacuum that helps your lungs fill with air.
- Intercostal muscles—these muscles are situated along the outer edges of your ribcage and help you move the ribcage to take in a breath.
- Abdominal muscles—these muscles assist in expanding, contracting, lifting, and lowering the ribcage so you can inhale and exhale properly.
- Muscles in the neck and chest also help raise, lower, and expand your chest and ribcage as you inhale and exhale.
Benefits of Proper Breathing
Besides the obvious benefit of taking in oxygen to keep us alive, what are some of the other benefits of proper breathing?
- Reduce stress
- Sleep better
- Reduce cravings
- Control depression
- Promote relaxation
- Lessen anxiety
- Improve digestion
- Lighten mood
- Produce a sense of calm
- Increase energy
- Lower blood pressure
- Ease pain
- Release toxins
When Breathing Goes Wrong
Breathing may be a normal, natural, and unconscious bodily function, but that doesn’t always mean you’re doing it right or that you’re entirely healthy. Many people suffer from breathing pattern disorders like breathing too fast, not inhaling deeply enough, mouth breathing, or shallow breathing. Shallow breathing is when you breathe with your chest and not your diaphragm. This causes you to not get a full breath, and therefore, not oxygenate your blood properly.
Here’s How to Make Sure You’re Breathing Properly
Yes, you’ve been breathing, but chances are really good you haven’t been doing it right. It’s essential to look for clues that you’ve been breathing incorrectly and work to correct those issues so you can maintain optimal health.
- Improve your posture—having good posture is not purely cosmetic. When you stand (or sit) up straight, you are better able to breathe deeply. Slouching or slumping makes it more difficult to breathe deeply.
- Breathe through your nose—most times, if you’re breathing through your mouth, you’re simply gulping air and not getting a full, deep, satisfying breath. Try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. You can also purse your lips and, after taking in a full breath through your nose, force the air out through your lips slowly.
- Use diaphragm breathing—this may not come naturally to you, and you may need to practice it to get it right. Here’s what to do: Lie on your back with your knees bent with one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach right below your ribcage. Slowly breathe in through your nose until you feel your belly rise. Flex your abdominals to push the air back out as you exhale. Your chest should remain virtually motionless.
- Breath rate—a good breath rate is about 10 – 12 slow, steady full breaths per minute. Practice timing yourself throughout the day to see if you’re breathing too fast, and if you are, relax and slow it down.
By learning and then practicing proper breathing, you’ll enjoy numerous benefits—including increased energy and mood. Now, isn’t that a breath of fresh air?!