Our breath is our primary source of life-giving energy, and a powerful tool for healing. So why don't we hear more from the medical community about how important our breath is to our overall health and vitality? Probably because, as of now, oxygen is still free, so there's not much potential for profit.
Does efficient breathing seem like too simple a solution for your health issues? Read on to discover all the ways better breathing can improve your health.
- Nourishes the cells of the body with oxygen. This one may seem obvious, but for some reason or another, whenever we are feeling depleted, most of us don't usually seem to connect how we are feeling with how we are breathing. According to Dr. Arthur C. Guyton, MD in The Textbook on Medical Physiology, “All chronic pain, suffering, and diseases are caused by a lack of oxygen at the cell level.”
- Boosts the immune system. “Oxygen plays a pivotal role in the functioning of the immune system,” according to Parris M. Kidd, Ph.D. and author of Antioxidant Adaptation. The connection of the breath with the health of our immune system has to do with the role of the breath in stress reduction. When our body is under stress, we tend to breathe more shallowly and this triggers the sympathetic nervous system to react as though we are in danger...known as the “fight or flight” response. Deep breathing triggers our parasympathetic nervous system, which reduces our sensation of stress and induces a state of calm throughout the body.
- Lowers blood pressure. In the same way that deep breathing calms the nervous system to boost our immunity, it also helps to reduce blood pressure. “The relationship between breathing and blood pressure has been known and understood for a long time,” says Robert Fried, Ph.D.,author of The Breath Connection. “It boils down to this: Elevated blood pressure accompanies those bodily states where rapid shallow breathing prevails. By altering breathing to a slow diaphragmatic mode, blood pressure decreases.”
- Regulates our hormones. The pituitary gland is responsible for regulating all the glands in the body and our production of hormones. The average person takes about 15 breaths per minute. When we slow our natural breathing to a rate of 8 breaths per minute, it stimulates our pituitary gland to function optimally, balancing our hormone production.
- Removes toxins from our cells. Our breath is the most detoxifying function of our body. According to Gay Hendricks, Ph.D., author of Conscious Breathing, “The human body is designed to discharge 70% of its toxins through breathing. Only a small percentage of toxins are discharged through sweat, defecation and urination. If your breathing is not operating at peak efficiency, you are not ridding yourself of toxins properly.”
- Reduces risk of cancer. Dr. Otto Warburg, Nobel Prize winner and Director of the Max Planck Institute for Cell Physiology in Berlin, has conducted research that confirms that the key condition preceding the development of cancer is a lack of oxygen at the cellular level. He states, “Cancer has only one prime cause. It is the replacement of normal oxygen respiration of the body's cells by anaerobic (i.e. oxygen-deficient) cell respiration.”
- Heals heart disease. According to a Dutch Study, which compared two different groups of heart attack patients, deep breathing can reduce the risk of heart attack. The first group in the study was taught simple diaphragmatic breathing, while the second group was given no breath retraining. Over the next two years, no one from the first group had another heart attack, while 7 of the 12 members of the second group had a second heart attack.
- Calms the mind and expands self-awareness. Our breath is controlled by both the autonomic nervous system and the somatic nervous system. This means that we continue to breathe automatically when we're not thinking about it, and we can also control our breath through awareness. This capacity is what makes the breath a truly unique function of the body: it is the link between the conscious and unconscious aspects of ourselves. Through breathing consciously, we uncover all of the dormant potential we have hidden away in our bodies.
- Heals emotional trauma. This is big one! Throughout our lives, most of us have learned that whenever we feel an emotion that is uncomfortable (or unacceptable) we can dull ourselves to the sensation of it by holding our breath. This is how we have learned to cope with discomfort. However, when we limit our experiences of the “bad” emotions (pain, sadness, fear, and anger), we also limit our capacity to experience the “good” emotions (joy, love, pleasure, gratitude). We learn to numb ourselves to the experience of life. However, through expanding and deepening our breath, we can restore our capacity to feel alive, joyful and happy!
- Connects us to our spirit. Whenever we lack inspiration in our life, we are not fully utilizing our breath. After all, one of the meanings of the word inspire is “to inhale.” As David Elliott, healer and author, states, “The breath is the freeway to your soul.”
Debby Andersen is a Yoga Teacher/Healer in San Antonio, offering private and group classes in yoga and breathwork. If you are interested in improving your breathing, check out her upcoming online Pranayama (breathing) course.
For more information on Debby's work and her offerings, visit her website and sign up for her newsletter.