The Power of Breathing
What are the vital functions of human life? What MUST you have to live as a human being? Is it essential that we have a heart beat?
Yes of course.
How about a nerve impulse sending messages from the brain to the body to initiate the digestion of food, movement of your limbs, and balance control? What is another function that we cannot live without? You got it, respiration. Respiration is the exchange and distribution of oxygen from the air that we breathe to the tissues of the body. Humans take on average 14-20 breaths per minute to supply the body with adequate amounts of oxygen.
The quality of your breathing is directly related to the symmetry of your posture.
Structure determines function, meaning that a properly aligned structure, promotes optimal functions of the body. If structure determines function, as human beings we should be concerned with improving the alignment of the postural framework of our body to live healthier.
When the boy slouches forward into trunk flexion, the ribcage actually compresses the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a muscle that performs of the function of inspiration and expiration. It is located below the ribcage, separating the thorax and the abdominal cavity. As you breathe in, the diaphragm contracts and flattens, allowing airflow to come into the lungs, which will then be sent to the rest of the body. With expiration, the diaphragm relaxes, and the airflow is pushed out. With an upright postural presentation, the diaphragm has full range of motion for inhalation and exhalation. With poor posture, the shoulders and the chest slouch forward, restricting the ability of the diaphragm to move through full ranges of motion. This is why the breath feels shorter with poor posture. With the body upright, it is much easier to take a full breath. There is no body strain to breathe properly.
We know that respiration is essential for sustaining life, what you may not have known is how important respiration is to improving the quality of your life. Proper respiration has healing capabilities, can make you a better athlete, and is one of the best forms of stress management.
Our breath changes with our mood and with emotions that we are feeling.
For example, when you feel like you are in danger, or when the pressure is on in the last minute of an important sports game, the rate of your breath will be much faster than when relaxing at the beach.
In the stressful situations, your respiration rate increases greatly, you breath faster. This is called a sympathetic, or the fight or flight response.
When you are relaxed your breath is slower, which is called the parasympathetic state of the autonomic nervous system.
If you are in a stressful situation, you can change your mood and autonomic function from sympathetic –survival mode, to parasympathetic – a state of relaxation and mental clarity by controlling your breath. That is extremely powerful. AS a person masters their breath, they are able to master the physiology of their body because they can control their body’s response in stressful situations.
To achieve these benefits of respiration requires mindful attention to your breaths. This will not happen on autopilot, it is an intentionally developed skill. Breathing is a natural and innate process of human function. Almost always, when we breathe it is a habitual action where we don’t even think about it. Think about the few minutes you have spent reading this. Until I started talking about breathing, were you even aware of your breath? No, it is a completely mindless action for the majority of us. Unless we strain ourselves where we need more oxygen, such as when running, we don’t notice the 14-20 breaths that are happening per minute.
In order to make changes in your breathing patterns, the first step is to becoming mindful of the action of respiration and be consistent with intentional breathing training.
Pranayama, a yogic form of breath control, has been described by Dr. Roger Cole in the following way. “It is not just breath training; it’s mind training that uses the breath as a vehicle. Pranayama makes your entire life better.”
Research demonstrates that although on average humans take 14-20 breaths power minute, which will vary from person to person based on their level of physical fitness and the mood in which they are in, humans feel their best at 5-6 breaths per minute.
Think of the phrases that we say on a normal basis that support this concept, “Take a deep breath, everything will be fine” or “What a sigh or relief.”
We know what slowed breathing is the best for us, however the majority of us don’t actually practice it because we are not trained to do so. It is something that makes sense to us and supports our belief system, yet we are never taught how to control our breath – with the exception of your mom telling you to relax and take a deep breath of course.
It turns out, mom always knows best. She tells us to sit up straight, not to slouch, and to take a deep breath when we are stressed out. Although mom may not have physiologically understood why this was good advice, she knew it worked, and she wanted the best for you.
Licensed Massage Therapist, MA #75533
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