Breathing is something we all do all the time. We are constantly inhaling and exhaling. It really is fundamental to everything we do. In fact, adults breathe between 6.3 to 8.4 million breaths per year. Yet most people don’t really give breathing much thought. However, our breathe is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal for our overall health and general wellbeing. Breathing literally gives us life and without it, the human body cannot exist. In recent years there has been a greater focus on just how important breathing is, and it seems that perhaps we have been doing it wrong!
Can better breathing lead to better living? Should we all be paying more attention to how we breathe? Can we change how we breathe? And what are the benefits to better breathing?
Focussed breathing has been shown to have a positive impact on the central nervous system (the processing centre of the body and consists of the brain and the spinal cord) with wide ranging benefits for the mind and body. Research indicates that some of the potential health benefits include:
Reducing stress and anxiety
Lowering blood pressure
Helping sleep better
Alkalizing blood PH
There is a huge amount of information and data on the benefits of breathing and a vast range of tools and techniques to help us do it better. Sometimes this information seems contradictory or is communicated in a way which may seem somewhat spiritual or mystical. However really it is just common sense and quite simple science.
Breathing and Anxiety
Our breath is an indicator of our mood. Our mood is an indicator of our breath. This means that when we have mood changes, our breath will also change. This also means if we can change how we breathe we can change how we feel.
When you feel stressed or anxious, breathing tends to become faster and shallower. This then limits the oxygen entering the bloodstream. Your brain processes this as a threat, and signals that to the rest of the body, which in turn responds with the fight or flight mode. Simply by taking time to slow down and focus attention on breathing slowly and deeply, your brain then realises that everything is OK, that there is no threat. The brain then signals to the body that it’s safe to relax. The fight or flight response is turned down, or off completely, and your mind and body can function normally again.
Some breathing facts & figures
The average person breathes in the equivalent of 13 pints of air every minute
The average person takes 17,000 breaths per day.
Researchers found differences in the facial developments of children that breath through their mouths compared to children that nose breathe.
In 2016, Spain's Aleix Segura Vendrell achieved the world record for breath-holding, more than 24 minutes.
Nose Breathing v Mouth Breathing
Most people probably don’t really pay attention as to whether they breathe more through their mouth or their nose. Yet this can have a significant impact on any things, more and more the benefits of nose breathing are being discovered (or re-discovered).
Most people are unaware that we’re designed to breathe through our noses in all but exceptional situations. Mouth breathing is very useful when needed, such as when our nose is blocked due to illness, but the default should always be breathing though our nose.
The benefits of nose breathing:
Protection of the lungs and airways
Improved physical and cognitive performance
Optimized oxygen and carbon dioxide levels
Better oral health
Prevention of dry mouth and nasal congestion
Mouth-breathing can contribute to the following:
Try and pay attention to whether you breathe more through your nose or through your mouth and try and ensure nose breathing is the default. Though many people switch to mouth breathing when they sleep, though there are ways to prevent that (and it has become a bit of a Tik Tok craze recently)
Breathing and Hypnotherapy
In hypnotherapy, focussing on breathing is common to help clients relax and bring about a state where positive suggestions are more easily accepted. So any form of focussed breathing overlaps with self-hypnosis and can be very beneficial for a range of challenges and issues.
Being mindful of your breath is incredibly beneficial to your overall health and wellbeing. Practicing some simply breathing techniques for yourself is the best way to discover just how quickly and easily the various systems of your body begin to respond.
There is a huge amount of information on the benefits of breathing and how we can all do it better. Sometimes this information seems contradictory or is communicated in a way which may seem spiritual or mystical. However often it is just common sense and quite simple science.
Some breathing techniques
These simple techniques are commonly used and easy to follow. The key is practice and to take some time, just a few minutes, every day to focus on your breathing! Find somewhere with minimal distractions, and give them a go.
A powerful but very simple technique. Ideally sit with your back supported in a comfortable chair and their feet on the floor.
Close your eyes.
Breathe in through your nose while counting to four slowly. Feel the air enter your lungs.
Hold your breath for a count of four.
Slowly exhale on a count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of four.
Inhale through your nose for a count of four
Hold your breath for a count of seven.
Exhale from your mouth for eight seconds (perhaps with a whoosh noise)
This simple involves breathing in and out of one nostril at a time while holding the other nostril closed.
Lie down in a comfortable position.
Place one hand on your chest and the other one below the rib cage.
Take a slow deep breathe in through your nose for about 4 seconds Focus on raising the hand on your belly
Exhale for 5-6 seconds
As you breathe in and out, ensure the hand on the chest remains still.
This is a more intensive and often cathartic technique and is used a lot in yoga
Close your eyes and take a full, deep inhale through the nose.
On the exhale, open the mouth wide and stick out your tongue, emptying your breath completely while making a "ha" sound.
Repeat for as many rounds as you'd like.
There are many more techniques available. And there are many guided videos to help you practice your breathing techniques (including one below). They key, as always with these things, is practice!
There are so many books, website, videos on the power of breathing. One of the best i James Nestor, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art
Malcolm Struthers Hypnotherapy - Online and in-person in Dumfries & Galloway