It may sound simple, and that’s because it is. Breathing which is a key function of the human body has been shown to positively impact the quality of life especially in those patients suffering with pain such as fibromyalgia as well as impacting our own heart rate and blood pressure. Let’s investigate what proper breathing is and it can optimize your health, well-being, and performance.
There are definitely benefits to be had from learning how to breathe correctly. That’s right, ‘learning to breathe correctly’ using a technique such as Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing. The best way to describe diaphragmatic breathing is that it uses the full capacity of the lungs and diaphragm to increase our overall inspiration capacity to approximately 500ml per breath to 3000ml or more and with more oxygen in the body also means more energy!
Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing also stimulates what’s called the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve connects the surface of the brain to tissues and organs in the neck, lungs and heart as well as the abdomen. If you’ve ever heard the saying ‘mind body connection’ it’s ultimately this vagus nerve that connects our mind and body together. The vagus nerve has four key functions within the body which include; sensory (from the heart, lungs and abdomen); special sensory (taste buds); motor (providing muscular function such as swallowing and speech); influencing our nervous system.
So, how do you breathe using your diaphragm? Here is the rundown. To start, place one hand on your chest and the other on your tummy while you’re sitting or laying down (I prefer lying). Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose, feeling the air filling up the back of the rib cage/lungs, then feel the air inflate the chest and your belly. Then, breathe out slowly through your lips.
Try to force out every last bit of air and you will know doubt breathe in more at the next round. I like to use counts with diaphragmatic breathing. Simply breathe in for three counts and then exhale for three counts, you add a count each time you inhale and therefore exhale. When you can’t add anymore numbers stop here for another three repetitions.
Try to get up to 20 counts in and 20 counts out. Diaphragmatic breathing can help center your thinking and can be particularly helpful before an exam or another event that you may be worried or anxious about.
Teddy bear breathing
Kids can often feel stressed or anxious too, so this exercise is excellent for little ones to try. Get them to lie down on their back, with one hand on their chest and their favorite stuffed animal on their belly. Ask them to close their eyes and relax. They’ll start by breathing in through the nose, encouraging them to make the stuffed animal on their tummy rise – not their chest. After a full breath, hold it, count to 3 then ask them to breathe out. Repeat until they feel relaxed.
Teddy bear breathing can be a great distraction and a simple calming method that involves their favorite cuddle buddy. Also, a great idea to slow them down before bed.
Physical exercise to improve breathing
During exercise, two important organs of the body are working the heart and the lungs. The lungs bring oxygen into the body to provide energy and remove carbon dioxide (the waste product created when you produce energy) and the heart pumps the oxygen to the muscles of the body that are doing the exercise.
During exercise it’s normal to get breathless. However, regular exercise can increase the strength and function of your muscles, making them more efficient. Your muscles will require less oxygen to move and they will produce less carbon dioxide. This will immediately decrease the amount of air you will need to breathe in and out for a given exercise. Training both cardio and weight training also improves your circulation and strengthens your heart.
The most important thing you can do to keep your lungs healthy is to LOOK AFTER THEM. Smoking will affect your ability to undertake physical activity and reach a level that you are comfortable with. However, if you choose to quit smoking, you are likely to be able to exercise for longer periods without the sensation of having a tight chest. The QUIT website on smoking and the lungs can provide more information on this topic (www.quit.org.au).