Perfecting your Wellness: Breathing

by Matt Chow

You breathe through your nose, air passes through the intricate caverns of the nasal cavity, the mouth, the trachea (windpipe), and into your lungs. Your chest expands as your lungs fill with oxygen and you quickly exhale. Sounds pretty normal, right? Surprisingly, this routine also happens to be one of the biggest detriments to your health.

While good cardiovascular health—focusing on efficient pumping of the heart to move blood to the rest of the body via a network of arteries and veins—is important, it underestimates the value of cardiopulmonary health. Cardiopulmonary health is very important when it comes to our ability of extracting oxygen, a very important nutrient for optimizing the performance and health of your organs down to the microscopic cells that make up these organs. The elastic lungs and diaphragm muscle are synchronized to work together — as you inhale the diaphragm muscle contracts strongly, shrinking in size to allow the lungs to expand, and as you exhale the diaphragm relaxes and expands upwards towards the lungs. The deeper the contraction of the diaphragm, allows for more air to be pulled into the deeper pockets of the lungs and the greater the expansion of the diaphragm, the greater the emptying of air from the lungs.

The unfortunate reality is that most of us are chest breathers. The air we breathe in only reaches the shallow regions at the top of the lungs. In the long term this is bad in many ways:

  1. Shallow breathing makes it harder to push out waste products from the deep regions of the lungs. The process of exhalation is designed to assist the cilia (which are tiny hairs lining the entire airway) to beat up and out waste products (such as dust, pollen, smoke) out of the lungs. Imagine the rubble and junk piling up in your lungs like trash in a junkyard. These waste products can fester and irritate your lung tissue.
  2. breathe

  3. The body tissues are not getting nourished optimally. When you skip meals and eat poorly, you don’t perform well. Oxygen is a nutrient too that your organs need plenty to perform efficiently.
  4. Puts more stress on the heart. If the lungs are not effective in eliminating carbon dioxide gas (a waste product from body metabolism), the concentration of this gas dissolved in the blood increases the acidity of the blood—the receptors in your body detect this shift, signalling the heart to pump much harder than normal and faster to try to shuttle carbon dioxide out of your body either by the lungs (hyperventilation) or the kidneys. Consider this is happening long term in your ‘resting’ state — think that’s healthy?

Take a deep breath

This is quite a lot of information to handle, but conscious training of your diaphragm muscle when you breathe can help you get the most out of your health. Athletic training, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and Yoga all focus a lot on diaphragmatic breathing—simply by training the diaphragm muscle to contract harder and relaxing more effectively to optimize the filling and emptying of the lungs.

I suggest you explore these training options with a qualified instructor to improve breathing, but here are some recommendations to think about during the day when you consciously breathe:

  1. Relax your belly when you inhale—sucking in your gut is constrictive on your internal organs. Diaphragmatic breathing helps massage these internal organs of the gut and provides blood flow as the diaphragm contracts and presses against them.
    A good exercise to visualize breathing with your diaphragm is to lie down on your back with bent knees and feet on the floor. Place a shoe on your belly and concentrate on making the shoe rise up on your inhalation.
  2. Bring your belly button to your spine when you exhale—this helps the diaphragm expand into the lungs to expel the lung contents containing carbon dioxide and waste material more effectively.
  3. Do this slowly—The diaphragm is a muscle you are training. Inhale slowly with conviction, hold your breath, and then exhale slowly and forcefully. Progress slowly; perform your breathing with the purpose of taking longer each time.
    These conscious exercises will soon pay you back in dividends when you develop a strong diaphragm capable of moving a higher capacity of air through the lungs.
  4. Perform your breathing exercises in the best type of air—fresh air! Early morning or evening is best but any outdoors air is better than indoor air. If you have odd moments in the day, do them! This doesn’t require a lot of your time.
  5. Are you noticing yourself a little bit calmer and your head a bit more clear? That’s the benefit of rich oxygen nutrition; your brain requires great constant nutrition for your mind to function properly to command your body!

    You are now more one step closer to perfecting your wellness. Enjoy the process; Treat wellness like a marathon, not a sprint.

    Matthew Chow
    Bsc Pharmacy, R.Ph

    Disclaimer: All of the information provided in my articles comes from thorough research, education, and experience. I am not a doctor; therefore my advice should not be put above that of your doctor.

    About Matt Chow
    Matt is a firm believer that health and wellness can be achieved through a curious thirst for knowledge, respecting the holistic nature of the human body, and daily application of good health practice. He seeks to continue learning about the human body while inspiring others to appreciate the process of achieving good health over the temptation of a quick fix.

    Visit my website →

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jamie February 6, 2012 at 11:47 am

Great Post Matt! I’ve experienced how incredible calming and detoxifying breathing can be through yoga and meditation but understanding the fundamental process is really cool and very interesting. It just makes me want to breath with conviction a lot more 😉

Thanks for sharing!

Mikey B February 7, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Hey Matt your post was great. Definitely sharing it 🙂

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