Our body needs oxygen to survive (insert ‘Well duh’ + eyeroll here). Our body’s main method of obtaining oxygen is via breathing (stay with me) and therefore … the more you can get into your lungs, the better. Okay, so you knew that already. But you might not be aware that, on average, most of us only use about 25% of our respiratory systems, or that most of our energy comes from what we bring in through the breath, and that almost 70% of detoxification occurs via our breath.
I don’t want to alarm you, but, according to molecular biologist Stephen Levine, author of Oxygen Deficiency, ‘Hypoxia, or lack of oxygen in the tissues, is the fundamental cause for all degenerative disease.’
Okay, that’s a little extreme, but ‘optimal’ breathing does, in fact, have loads of benefits. A typical side effect of stress is shallow breathing, so deep breathing can actually help to reduce stress. A great side effect of this is better skin – stress causes your body to distribute nutrients inefficiently, and because skin is the last part of the body to ‘get fed’, when you’re stressed it is essentially being starved.
As if that weren’t enough, there is also evidence that regular deep breathing can help you sleep better.
How to breathe ‘optimally’
• Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your upper chest, close your eyes and breathe in deeply through your nose, then let it out. Which hand moved the most, the bottom or the top? Most people are upper-chest breathers.
• The upper chest is associated with anxiety and stress. Lie or sit somewhere comfortable. Put your hands on your abdomen and breathe through the nose, imagining there is a balloon where your abdomen is. Take a deep inhale, inflating the ‘balloon’ . Feel the abdomen rise. Then let it go, and repeat. Keep doing this for five minutes.
• If you are a belly breather, assume the same position. Put your hands on your stomach, close your eyes and inhale deeply and slowly. The breath will move slowly into the ribcage area and then to the upper chest. Breathing from your belly will be easy but your breath tends not to go further up into your ribcage and upper chest. If the breath is coming from the abdomen and going through the upper chest, it raises your body awareness.
• If you want a quick dose of oxygen (especially in the morning, when you would rather stay in bed) put your hands on your abdomen and open your mouth slightly. Do two quick, sharp intakes of breath, and then let it go, so it has an ‘in, in, out’ rhythm. Repeat a few times.
• Believe it or not, yoga is all about breathing. Apart from helping to keep you fit, it offers many techniques to help you become more attuned to your breathing, so consider taking a few classes to try it out.
Warning: Though deep breathing is not necessarily intense exercise, it is always wise to consult your physician before undertaking the practice of deep breathing.