Learn To Breathe

By Jacqui Thompson
11th Aug 2013

You can blame all the usual suspects—prolonged sitting, a frenetic life pace, anxiety and stress, or perhaps asthma—for our inability to breathe properly.

Breathing is an automatic and subconscious activity, and yet we get it wrong. Ideally, an adult should breathe 12 times per minute, and on average, we are getting faster! There are side effects to this modern-day change, including: dizziness, headache, shortness of breathe, snoring, agitation and fatigue. 

Shallow, hyper breathing is generally caused by our hyper-drive lives and it is something we all should consciously address. 

The Resilience Institute has conducted extensive research into the powerful and positive effects of improving the breath. Here are some of their invaluable tips, which will help you improve your breathing and generally just make you feel better:

1. Start lying flat on a firm surface

2. Place a hand on your belly and your chest

3. Simply watch the rise and fall of your hands 

4. Gently nudge your inhale to 3 seconds

5. Slow and extend your exhale to 5 seconds

6. Relax and soften your chest and shoulders

7. Allow your belly and lower ribs to rise and fall

8. Relax, soften your facial muscles

9. Pause gently at the end of exhalation

10. Continue for 5 to 10 minutes

There is significant science behind the positive effects of changing the depth and pace of your breath. The practices of mindfulness and meditation both intrinsically rely on the state and pace of breath, and have been clinically proven to improve mental and physical wellbeing.

Further to these benefits, is a positive affect on your nervous system. As humans have evolved, we have developed a newer part of our nervous system called The New Vagus. Breath is an integral tool in stimulating The New Vagus.

The ancient part of our nervous system, called The Parasympathic System, causes shut down, essentially the body collapses and creates inertia—a form of feigning death. We have all seen animals use this technique. The Sympathetic Nervous System runs through the spinal cord and operates the fight-or-flight response, which is an effective short-term response to stress or danger. This response is stimulated when we use exercise to counter stress. 

Finally, we come to The New Vagus system. The 'Vagal Brake', as it is called, is a result of human evolution and allows for a calm, engaged and effective reaction when facing a challenge. Doctor Stephen Porges' research has indicated that slow, diaphragmatic breath can help stimulate The New Vagus reaction.

So whether the science interests you or not—changing your breath will change your life.

Image credit: Pinterest - Ella Patsos

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