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  • Writer's pictureDr. de Castro

Take A Deep Breath

The breath.

Something we rarely pay attention to. And yet…so important.

Without our breath, we cannot live. We do not deliver oxygen to our cells and carry away the waste.

Many people don’t realize that how they breathe matters. Yes, there is a wrong way to breathe. Will you still be getting life giving oxygen? Yes. But you can also be causing stress on your body that can be removed by changing your breathing patterns.

Breath, or respiration, happens naturally, and is controlled by different parts of the brain including the pons and medulla, as well as chemoreceptors and pulmonary stretch receptors in the body. When we breathe, we move air in and out of lungs, which facilitates the gas exchange we need to survive.

One of the major players in breathing is our diaphragm, it is the primary muscle of respiration. This muscle is shaped like a dome, and sits between the lungs, and the other vital organs of the abdomen. When it contracts, it flattens, creating a vacuum in the lungs, pulling in air. As we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes, causing air to be expelled from the lungs.

As we breathe, all 360 degrees of our trunk should expand, taking in a full breath. However, most people do not follow this pattern.

If you watch others breathe at rest, or even notice how you breathe, you will notice that some people have a pattern where the stomach, sides and back don’t move much, and that the shoulders and chest are moving more than anything. This is a pattern of breathing that can lead the body to stress and tension.

When we breathe with our chests, we are breathing shallow…sometimes not using more than the upper third of our lungs. This state of breath also uses accessory breathing muscles like the scalenes, which are only supposed to be used when we are breathing heavily, usually in a state of stress.

Since we are activating these muscles, the body responds, if we’re breathing like we are in a stressful situation, then we must be stressed, RIGHT!? So we sit in the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight system, cortisol is released, and it can place us in a constant state of stress.

Learning to breathe with the diaphragm, being slow, deep and relaxed with breath, we can switch our nervous system to the parasympathetic side. This is the rest and digest part of the system. When we do things like heal, digest food and procreate.

Now that you know how important it is to breathe correctly, here are some things you can do to get on the right track.

  • At least once a day, take about 5 to 10 minutes to work on your breathing. Placing a hand on your chest and the other on your stomach is a good place to start, and work on only moving the stomach hand, and the chest hand barely moving, if it all.

  • Once you have that part under control, you can work on expanding the entire trunk. Breathe into your sides and back too, really filling the lungs.

  • Another thing you can try is playing with how long your inhales and exhales are. Try counting to 4 for an inhale, hold and exhale. Try making your exhale longer than your inhale. All of these motions will calm the body and get you in a state of rest.

Having these tools and knowing you can work with you breath can be a great thing if you’re having a stressful day at work, or are in the middle of panic mode. Stopping, recognizing and controlling the breath can help you flip 180 in your perception of the situation, and feel just that much better.

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