body & health, mental health, Uncategorized

How You Breathe Impacts Your Health

Take a deep breath, and slowly let it out. Breathing is one of those life necessities that we all take for granted. Although it’s automatic, we could all stand to pay more attention to it. Why? Because you’re not doing it right.

By the time we reach adulthood, most of us are shallow breathers. We hold our breath in front of the computer, when we exercise, think deeply, and when we are worried. We take rapid inhalations and spend very little time on exhalations.

What’s the big deal?

Breathing is linked to a series of hormone reactions that directly impact your health. Rapid breathing signals your hippocampus and your amygdala that you’re in danger. From there, chemicals are released to ensure that your body produces enough stress support hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, to get you out of danger. Moreover, researchers are finding that the way you breathe directly impacts which part of your brain activates. Breathe the wrong way and you light up your brain’s fear center throughout the day. This results in an overactive nervous system, and overtime a cornucopia of health issues.

What Can You Do?

  • Work on Your Breathing. Make your breathing count throughout the day. Mindfully make sure that you inhale deeply and exhale slowly. If you catch yourself breathing rapidly or holding your breath, close your eyes and imagine you’re a wave. Inhale deeply, pushing your tummy out when you pull away from shore, and then exhale deeply and slowly when you come back to shore.
  • Computer Work. Pay attention to your breathing when you work at the computer. Most of us hold our breath. If you find that you do, set a timer on your phone for regular breathing breaks. I recommend starting with reminders every 20 min. This will help your brain get in the habit of being mindful about breathing. You can also use this opportunity to get up and stretch. Your posture affects your breathing. We all tend to curve forward at our workstations. This is not only awful for our necks, it also compresses our organs, including our lungs.
  • Count your reps aloud when you exercise. Breathing correctly during exercise is a real challenge. Physical effort often makes us hold our breath. I always have my clients count aloud when they exercise. Talking loudly and clearly triggers breathing and forces your body to adopt a normal breathing pattern.
  • Start and end the day with breathing exercises. Start your day with alternate nostril breathing exercises (see below). Start with 3 minutes and work up to 5 minutes. This an effective way to calm your nervous system and stay energized throughout the day.

Alternate Nostril Breathing Exercise

Do not hold on to the breath if you have high blood pressure. Always check your medical team to see if an exercise is appropriate for you.

  • Place your right thumb on you right nostril and your right index finger hovering over your left nostril
  • Close the right nostril with your thumb while inhaling deep and slow through the left nostril
  • Pause, hanging on to the breath for 3 seconds
  • Close the left nostril with your right index finger and release your right nostril. Exhale slowly and fully through your right nostril
  • Pause for 1-2 seconds
  • Keep your index finger on your left nostril, and inhale deeply and slowly through your right nostril
  • Pause, hanging on to the breath for 3 seconds
  • Repeat all the steps

Proper breathing is linked to improved nervous and immune system function. It helps regulate hormonal function and improves sleep. Take a deep breath, and slowly let it out. You’re on your way to improving your health!

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