We breathe without thinking – but are we actually doing it the right way? Most people do what is known as ‘shallow breathing’, with the result that their bodies get too little oxygen and they are not able to exhale toxins sufficiently. This harms both our physical and mental health. And yet: breathing properly is really easy. It takes a little practice but helps to improve our health and calms us.
We need to breathe in order to live. Humans can only survive for a few minutes without breathing. In daily life, we are usually not even aware of it, since our breathing is controlled automatically by our nervous system. When we breathe in, air travels through our nose or our mouth to the lungs, where gases are exchanged. Oxygen moves through the alveoli into the blood, and carbon dioxide passes from the blood into the alveoli, from where it is exhaled.
Our bodies need regular intakes of oxygen in order to continue functioning. Otherwise, we get headaches and our limbs hurt, and we become tired and are unable to concentrate. And if toxins are not expelled from the body, they build up in our joints and arteries. Muscles become increasingly tense and the risk of infection rises. At the same time, these toxins prevent minerals from reaching the places where they are needed.
Posture and breathing techniques and habits
The way we breathe has a significant impact on our health. However, by breathing properly, we can also positively influence our health. Experts agree that our posture and breathing techniques and habits are of decisive importance in this context. If we allow our shoulders to drop forwards even only slightly, this reduces the volume of the thorax. As a result, people who spend a lot of time sitting down often only use the upper lobes of the lungs. The result is that our bodies receive less oxygen and fewer toxins are exhaled.
Step 1: Breathe consciously
Our breathing technique is of key importance. It is estimated that more than 80% of people do not breathe properly: they take short and shallow breaths. Ideally, we should breathe in every 4 seconds – which equates to around 15 breaths per minute. Try this for yourself to see what it means. You will probably find that you breathe much more slowly if you concentrate on your breathing. In doing so, you have already achieved something: You have had a positive impact on your breathing simply by focusing your attention on it. What is important is to breathe evenly and to find a natural rhythm. Don’t try too hard – just allow your breath to flow. Even just by doing this simple exercise, you will notice that you start to feel calmer.
Step 2: Abdominal breathing
As I mentioned earlier, the main problem for most people is shallow breathing – in other words, they only fill their lungs (or even only part of the lungs). The concept known as ‘abdominal breathing’, which causes the diaphragm to move, has a very positive physical and psychological effect on us. Try placing your hand on your stomach and then breathe down deeply to the level of your abdomen. It is best to do this either when you are lying down or while keeping the upper part of your body straight. Can you feel the way your diaphragm rises? When you breathe out, imagine that your hands are heavy and feel how your stomach pulls back as a result of the movement of your diaphragm. This will relax you even more and, at the same time, give your body an energy boost, since much more oxygen will reach it – meaning the benefits are twofold!
Here are a few more tips on how to achieve the ‘right’ – i.e. healthy – breathing techniques and habits: 1) Breathe in through your nose, not through your mouth. Why shouldn’t you breathe in through your mouth? The answer is: When you breathe in through your nose, the air becomes warmer and moister – and larger particles that could be harmful are filtered out. This means that you breathe in better air. Interestingly, breathing in through your nose also has a positive effect on your brain, as demonstrated by a study by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine: http://www.jneurosci.org/content/36/49/12448. It showed that people who breathe in through their noses can identify objects better and can recognize faces more rapidly.
2) If you want to calm your nervous system considerably, exhale for a longer period of time than you inhale. If you are stressed or are getting annoyed, try exhaling for longer. This has a very positive effect on the central nervous system. For example, you can count to 4 when breathing in and then count to 6 when breathing out. You will start to feel the effects after a few minutes. You’ll feel calmer and more relaxed. Unlike our blood pressure and heart rate, our breathing is something that we can consciously control – thus doing something good for our bodies and minds.
© Claudia Kraaz