Sunday, November 05, 2006

Breath Like a Baby and Reap the Benefits

Do you know and understand all of the benefits that come from learning deep breathing? Or perhaps it is safer to say relearning how to deep breathe? Let us take a closer look.

Deep breathing is one of the most basic ways to improve quality of life but as we age we have a tendency to engage in more shallow breathing that comes from high in our chests. Stress also plays a role in how our breathing changes, as we get older. We take in the range of 20,000 breathes per day and if we do not do it properly we are denying our bodies essential nutrients and causing muscle tension due to less oxygen in the bloodstream.

Babies and children have deep breathing down to an art form. All little ones breathe with their entire lungs and they breath from deep down in their diaphragm (the diaphragm is a muscle found in the lower abdomen) as nature intended. But somewhere along the way most adults lose or simply without realizing it, give up this ability. Trying life circumstances have a way of affecting the way we breathe in the form of chronic tension and poor posture. Chronic tension, which often gives way to headaches, occurs when not enough oxygen is able to reach cells in order to nourish them adequately while poor posture makes us slouch and bend. All that slouching and bending causes internal organs to become cramped and in turn renders them more ineffective.

Two Types of Breathers- Which Kind are You?

There are two types of breathers in the world- the chest breathers and the diaphragm breathers. Those who breathe from the chest have irregular breathing and their air intake is slow and laborious. Fast, shallow breathing from the chest causes carbon dioxide to be expelled too rapidly, which then leads to excess tension on the body as well as the mind. Both are unwanted.

The healthier way to breathe is to be a diaphragm breather. This correct form is even and more consistent, and allows for the inhalation of more air as opposed to less, and allows for air to be breathed deeper into the lungs.

Be aware that deep breathing involves more than just the muscles of the respiratory system. It also includes the stomach, lower ribcage and the lower back. Breathing is slower in this case and combined with the rhythmical action of the diaphragm, stomach and abdomen, helps to bring on a nervous system response that is referred to as the relaxation response, because of the fact that it allows for the body to experience a complete sense of relaxation, from head to toe.

The Many Benefits of Deep Breathing

Deep breathing serves to promote improved health and is very therapeutic for a number of reasons. First of all deep breathing allows the oxygen supply to the brain and all of the organs of the body to be doubled in size which allows them to work to their optimum best. Deep breathing can make for a restful nighttime sleep and it can serve to release endorphins in the brain (endorphins are the natural painkillers of the body).

A survey recently done by the International Longevity Center in the USA (ILC) demonstrated that almost half of all senior American citizens (which worked out to be 46 percent) get less than seven hours of sleep every night, and not just occasionally but on a consistent basis. The survey went on to further show that while 80 percent of senior adults recognize the importance of having a night of restful sleep, worry is cited as a common factor in nearly 40 percent of senior adults inability to fall asleep and stay asleep. By practicing deep breathing on a regular basis, especially before bedtime or whenever stress crops up, oxygen is more freely distributed throughout the body, thus allowing for both the mind as well as the body to settle into a calmer and more relaxed state. This makes sleep come much easier and faster.

Deep breathing allows for the release of endorphins in the brain, endorphins being morphine-like substances (also sometimes referred to as opioids) that help the body to reduce pain by blocking pain signals that come directly from the nervous system. A nationwide survey conducted in 2004 by the Arthritis Foundation showed than an estimated 40 percent of individuals who are over the age of 65 suffer from some form of arthritis or another and therefore could very much benefit from the process of deep breathing due to its endorphin releasing characteristics.

The Basics of Deep Breathing

Relearning the technique of deep breathing takes practice as well as perseverance but it most definitely can be accomplished. There is more than one way to learn how to deep breathe although all methods are basically the same and lead you to the same objective. For example it is not necessary to learn deep breathing methods suggest you lie down whereas others suggest sitting; also some methods tell you to hold your breath to a count of three while others say to do it for a count of four. The Internet provides a wealth of information in learning deep breathing techniques. Finding an instructor to learn how to deep breathe is not essential but taking advantage of the buddy or partner system is always a good idea, as it will serve to keep you motivated. Once you become skilled at doing deep breathing exercises you should find it effortless to do it anywhere you are at and at any time it is called upon.

One Method of Deep Breathing

Lie or sit down in a comfortable position and on a comfortable surface.
Now you are going to begin by positioning your hands in very specific places. One is to go above your belly button and the other is to go below it. You are doing this so you will get used to the action of your lungs filling and releasing air.
Now breathe in through your nose.
You are going to breathe in air in three parts- first by filling the bottom part of your lungs (do this by expanding your lower stomach), next comes the middle of your lungs and then finally, the top section.
Hold the air in your lungs to a count of three.
Now breathe out in three parts by doing the opposite of when you breathed in- go top, middle and then bottom.
As you force all of the air from your lungs you should notice your shoulders rolling forward just a bit.
Repeat this process a number of times a day and do it for a count of five to ten breaths.
Feel the relaxation that comes over your body and mind after the exhilarating deep breathing experience.

Be aware that some individuals especially when they are beginners might experience dizziness or lightheadedness while doing deep breathing exercises. This takes place due to the increase of oxygen into the body. If this happens to you, give your arms and hands a hearty shake to use up the extra oxygen and take a break by returning to normal, regular breathing for a few minutes. Once you feel better then resume the deep breathing exercises.

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