We often think that to live a healthier life we need to put a lot of effort into working out, eating healthy, taking our supplements, and avoiding junk food. While all these things are definitely beneficial, there’s a very simple practice that can bring us many health benefits: breathing.
Yes, we all breathe to survive. But we don’t breathe as we should. In her TED Talk, clinical psychologist Belisa Vranich talks about how we don’t use our lungs at full capacity in everyday breathing. Instead, we have a shallow and fast way of breathing that only uses the top part of our lungs, leading us to use our neck and shoulder muscles, therefore causing us tightness and pain in these areas among other issues.
Our breathing pattern changes with age. As toddlers, we breathe naturally with our belly, at full capacity. With age, because of the posture we keep when seated and other reasons like the belief that our lungs are located somewhere in the upper part of our chest, our breath changes and we only breathe at the top of our lungs.
How does the breath affect our bodies?
Our breath affects our sleep, our digestion, or back and even our memory. It can increase anxiety and stress. It also affects our immune system, the adrenal glands, and the acidity of our blood.
When breathing in a shallow and fast way it activates our sympathetic nervous system also known as the fight or flight mode. This puts us in a constant state of stress and we all know that stress can wreak havoc in our bodies and affect our mental health. This type of breathing increases our heart rate causing us anxiety and putting us at risk of having heart issues.
How slow and deep breathing can help with relaxation
The vagus nerve is the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system in our body, in charge of regulating the parasympathetic system or the “rest-and-digest” mode, as opposed to the fight-or-flight one. The vagus nerve reaches our heart, lungs, and digestive tract.
Depending on the way we breathe, the vagus nerve sends signals to the brain and the heart. While fast and shallow breathing increases the heart rate and makes us anxious, slow, deep breathing has the opposite effect. It activates the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic system, making us feel calmer. Our heart rate slows down and our whole body relaxes.
Doing just a few minutes of deep, slow breathing can help relieve stress and anxiety. It can help us sleep better, relax our muscles, and feel an overall sense of wellbeing.
Try to incorporate slow breathing exercises into your routine, before going to bed or whenever you are feeling particularly stressed and anxious.