10 benefits of deep breathing

Take a deep breath. We all know the saying – it’s been adopted by parents, teachers and friends, medical doctors, coaches and gurus – and for good reason, the health benefits of deep breathing are simply overwhelming.

Oxygen is the most essential natural resource required by your cells. You can go without food for up to 40 days and without water for 3 days, yet you can die after just a few minutes of not breathing. From a purely physical point of view, breath equals life, yet as an autonomous function it is all too easily dismissed.  Deep, conscious breathing is vital to maintaining homeostasis in your body and a fundamental tool to support emotional and mental health.

WHAT IS DEEP BREATHING?

Your lungs work tirelessly, sending oxygen into your bloodstream to be delivered to every cell in your body. As you inhale your diaphragm contracts to make room for your lungs to expand and take in oxygen, as you exhale your diaphragm relaxes forcing air to be expelled from your lungs – at least this is how breathing should work.  However, over two-thirds of the population are not actually using their diaphragms to breathe, resulting in shallow breathing which weakens this muscle and results in loss of lung elasticity.  Shallow breathing uses the neck, back and chest muscles to assist with breathing, leading to muscle fatigue and causing emotional, mental, physical and spiritual tension.

Conversely, deep breathing activates your diaphragm and increases lung capacity. With regular deep breathing, you exercise your diaphragm muscle and expand the air pockets within your lungs, which are then able to clear out toxins and deliver oxygen to the blood at a greater rate. With this oxygen boost, your body gets the oxygen it needs for exercise, proper cell function and a range of other bodily processes – promoting harmony, health, and balance.

Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.
HARVARD HEALTH

By mastering the art of deep breathing, increased oxygen floods into your body, helping the heart rate to slow down and creating feelings of calmness and relaxation.  Oxygen is what helps your body effectively absorb vitamins, minerals, and nutrients – in short oxygen is life. So, the more oxygen you have in your system the better your mind and body can function. Let’s take a closer look at some of the more obvious benefits of deep breathing.

1. Deep breathing releases toxins

One of the main functions of breathing is to detoxify your body – in fact, around 70% of toxins are released from your body through your breath. Carbon dioxide – a natural waste product of your body’s metabolism – is released every time you exhale. If you live in a city, your body is constantly dealing with air pollution, breathing deeply helps the systems in the body to process these toxins more efficiently.

2. Deep breathing increases energy

Deep breathing oxygenates your blood so that it can effectively absorb vital energy giving vitamins, minerals and nutrients, it also relieves stress freeing up a huge amount of energy. Deep breathing produces increased Growth Hormone (GH) and Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate (DHEAS), two key hormones linked to vitality. Research found that 12 weeks of daily yoga training incorporating breathing practices successfully increased GH and DHEAS in both males and females.

3. Deep breathing improves lung function

Taking more than 6 million breaths per year, your lungs affect every aspect of your body and health. The most important function of your lungs is to take oxygen from the environment and transfer it to your bloodstream – so it’s not surprising that lung function is so important to health and fitness. A study in 2011 found that deep breathing exercises, when performed for up to just 10 minutes, were able to notably enhance lung function in healthy young individuals. Deep breathing can actually stretch lung tissue, increasing your lung capacity and providing a more efficient battery for your body.

4. Deep breathing relieves anxiety

There are dozens of studies that support the use of deep breathing for stress and anxiety management.  Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system and brings you into a relaxed state via activation of the vagal nerve.  In one study, 60 pregnant women in preterm labour were taught a modified abdominal breathing technique which they practiced 3 times a day for 3 days in order to reduce stress and anxiety. The breathing technique not only lowered emotional stress and anxiety, but reduced reliance on drugs (ritodrine and atosiban) during labour.

5. Deep breathing releases muscle tension

Bodily tension such as tightness, headaches, stiffness, aches, clenching, grinding and bracing are a key physiological sign of stress.  When you are stressed and experience uncomfortable feelings such as anger or pain, your breath becomes shallow causing your muscle tissues to contract.  It therefore makes sense that deep breathing can help to release muscle tension by increasing blood flow, oxygen exchange and relaxing your mind.

6. Deep breathing relieves chronic pain

Can you guess what your instinctual reaction to pain is? Holding your breath. Although it feels unnatural in the moment, breathing deeply lowers muscle tension and makes the body more relaxed in order to start the healing process.  One study found that implementing deep breathing exercises as a relaxation technique was effective in managing pain for patients who had recently undergone coronary artery bypass graft surgery – 73.3% of the subjects found that deep breathing was helpful in pain management.

7. Deep breathing improves mood

When you are emotionally out of control it can be physically and mentally draining – deep breathing releases endorphins, which bring you into a more positive mental state. A study by researchers at Trinity College Institutes of Neuroscience and Global Brain Health found that deep breathing performed alongside mindfulness techniques stimulated the release of a brain chemical called noradrenaline, which improves focus and helps your brain stay “youthful” by growing new connections between cells.

8. Deep breathing improves symptoms of depression

Breathing deeply slows down the release of cortisol – a stress hormone – and since stress heightens the symptoms of depression, deep breathing is said to help with this. A study by Dr. Chris Streeter concluded that people who had depressive disorders and carried out deep breathing along with daily yoga for a 12 week period, saw a huge reduction in symptoms.  It’s important to note that the extreme end of clinical depression will require much more than deep breathing and has recently been found to have a range of very physical factors involved, including inflammation of the brain.

9. Deep breathing improves focus and concentration

The quality of your breath helps to relax your mind, enhancing your ability to learn, focus and concentrate. The brain requires a great deal of oxygen to function and increased intake of oxygen helps you achieve clarity and feel grounded and productive. The Purdue pegboard task is used as an indicator of fine motor speed and focused attention because it requires a degree of visuo-motor co-ordination. In a notable study, the task was given after 10 minutes of deep breathing and there was an immediate improvement in scores.

10. Deep breathing improves memory

Deep breathing has the power to improve your memory – typically a very useful gauge of overall brain health. Neuroscientists from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine found that deep breathing causes major changes in our brain activity. Specifically, inhalation was shown to affect our amygdala and hippocampus –  the areas of your brain which control everything from mood, to memory and thought processing – increasing the participants’ ability to recollect images and other information.

The breath affects every system in your body so it should not surprise you to learn that breathing optimally can improve your mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing. Closely linked to your nervous system, in becoming more aware and taking control of your breath you can use it as a tool to shift the way you feel. You breathe on average 20,000 times a day without even having to think about it, however, by understanding your breathing and aiming to take more deep, conscious breaths, you can embrace the bounteous breathwork benefits and use them to biohack your body and mind.

At Breath Evolution, our courses incorporate the teaching of breathing techniques based in pranayama, to achieve specific health and wellness goals.

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