Breathing oxygen is something most of us take for granted and don’t pay much attention to but we should. Optimal breathing is probably the most significant factor in your overall health and longevity. The benefits of optimal breathing include positive impacts on your respiratory system such as eliminating waste through your breath. According to ‘The Tao of Breathing’ by Dennis Lewis, 70% of our body’s waste products are eliminated by your lungs. That is reason enough to pay more attention to your breathing. The circulatory system relies on breathing to carry oxygen to every cell and the more we are focused on breathing into parts of our body that are causing us distress and being more mindful, we can use our breath as a healing tool and direct it to areas of congestion or discomfort. For instance, you could breathe in healing colors like green to areas of pain.
Breathing exercises can calm the nervous system by promoting the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system (versus the sympathetic branch which is fight or flight/stress)and balance both hemispheres of the brain depending on the technique. When we have thoughts or emotions that are stressful, we tend to hold our breath or breath shallowly. This makes us feel more anxious and blocks our inherent self-regulating property that comes from optimal breathing. Bringing your attention back to your breath can focus you on the present moment and reduce the stress response. Optimal breathing also has positive effects on your digestive, urinary, endocrine system and your skin. So what are some ways you could use breathing to enhance your health?
One breath I use commonly is called the relaxing breath. I learned this from Dr. Andrew Weil’s cd’s on breathing exercises (for more info or to purchase please visit his website). To do this breath, you put the tip of your tongue against the back of your front teeth. You breathe in silently through your nose for a count of four. Then hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale through your mouth (with your tongue still connected to the back of your front teeth) for a count of eight. This completes one full breath. It is recommended to work up to four breaths (and no more) when you feel comfortable with this technique. This is a great breath to do whenever you are feeling stressed or anxious. It helps reset your nervous system so you are in more of a parasympathetic state or calming state. Don’t underestimate the power of breathing to help with coping with anxiety or any less than optimal mood state.
I also recommend that patients just meditate on their breath. Lie down for this exercise or sit with your spine straight in a chair. Start with ten minutes and focus on your breath. Follow your breath as you inhale and exhale. Breathe from your abdomen and fill your entire lungs up with a full breath – if it helps put one hand on your chest and the other hand on your abdomen. Whenever thoughts come up that distract you from your breath, gently bring your attention back to your breath. Don’t worry if you find it challenging to focus on your breath. Your mind will show up telling you that this is boring, a waste of time or whatever thoughts are needed to take you off your focus on breathing. Just keep bringing your attention back and before you know it, the time will be up. (I use a egg timer when I meditate. You just set the time and it will go off when the time is over). It takes discipline to meditate on your breath; the payoff is a quieter mind in the long run and a state of relaxation in the axis of your mind/body/spirit plus all the health benefits that come along with optimal breathing. Start with ten minutes daily and work up to twenty minutes twice daily if you are really keen.
Breathing connects you to all of life. You need breath to thrive and be vital and be connected to your inner being. Breathing also connects you to a greater life force that energizes all things and can guide you in your life’s journey. We are all interconnected; we are all one. Remembering to breathe is the first step to greater connection to the whole.