How does our breathing process work to keep us alive and healthy?
Breathing is a very complex process of gas exchange which takes place in the lungs as well as in every cell of our body. As we inhale through the nose and down into the lungs, we bring oxygen into the bronchial trees, where tiny air passages end in alveoli, microscopic air sacs with very thin and membranous walls. This is where the exchange of gases takes place. Oxygen is absorbed through the walls of the alveoli into a network of tiny capillaries where it is picked up by the blood stream and transported to the body’s individual cells. The heart propels the oxygenated blood to each each cell, where a similar gas exchange takes place. The cells absorb the energizing oxygen and release carbon dioxide, a byproduct of the metabolism of energy. The blood then transports this carbon dioxide back to the alveoli in the lungs where it is exchanged with fresh oxygen and then released as we exhale. All this is done over and over and over and over...
Efficient breathing means that you are breathing in a way that brings enough oxygen into your body to properly support the functions of all your cells and organs.
What the heck is the diaphragm and why is it important?
The diaphragm is the key to efficient breathing. To get the most benefit from your breathing cycles, the efficient solution is diaphragmatic breathing (also called abdominal breathing, belly breathing). The diaphragm is a flat, dome shaped muscle just under your lungs that essentially divides the torso into two cavities, one stacked on top of the other: the chest cavity above, the abdominal cavity below. The lungs are directly above the diaphragm. In its resting position, the diaphragm billows up into the the chest cavity somewhat like a parachute or dome. When we inhale deeply we actually push the diaphragmatic floor downward, creating that sensation of filling your belly with breath.
Three phases occur in sequence when you breath to maximum capacity: diaphragmatic breathing (into the lower lungs), thoracic breathing (into the mid lungs) and clavicular breathing (into the upper lungs - this type of breathing is only significant when the maximum amount of air is needed such as during vigorous exercise).
Then of course there is the exhalation, the release of air in the lungs, the relaxation of the muscles. Most often, we find a pause between the inhalation and the exhalation.
The lower portions of the lungs are where the major portion of blood circulates and where the majority of the gas exchanges take place. Therefore breathing into the lower lungs through diaphragmatic breathing ensures that the blood is oxygenated in the most efficient manner.
What happens if we are not breathing efficiently?
Poor breathing habits can create unnecessary stress for our body, if we can't get enough oxygen to our organs they won't function as well as they should. Poor habits include shallow breathing, mouth breathing, holding your breath, and chest breathing. If we are only breathing into the mid and upper parts of the lungs by expanding the chest (thoracic breathing), the oxygen we inhale is not mixed as thoroughly with blood and more work is required to do the job, resulting in us having to take more frequent breaths. It means more oxygen is needed, more blood needs to flow through the lungs, and the heart needs to work harder. So give your heart a break! Breath more efficiently.
What are the effects of efficient breathing?
Getting enough oxygen into your body through your respiratory system is vital to your health. Here are 10 effects of efficient breathing:
3 Tips to breath more efficiently
PRACTICE: How does your breath feel today?
You can be more aware of the quality of your breath by focusing on the way that you inhale and exhale, on how you receive and release your breath. Take a few moments to observe it, to notice how it feels today.
Just breathe. Just notice. Inhale naturally, exhale, enjoy the pause at the bottom, then repeat. And be sure to give thanks to your body for breathing so beautifully.
GO DEEPER: BOOK LIST
Science of Breath, A Practical Guide - Swami Rama, Rudolph Ballentine, MD, Alan Hymes, MD
This is a wonderful little book, very interesting and easy to read, that will give you a whole new understanding and appreciation of your breath, how it relates to your life, to your wellness, and in particular how it can relate to your yoga and meditation practices. It explores the Western science and the Eastern insights that support the idea that the breath is the link between mind and body. A must-read for anyone practicing yoga and meditation.
The Yoga of Breath - A Step by Step Guide to Pranayama - Richard Rosen
Pranayama is a vitally important part of the Hatha Yoga tradition. The “yoga of breath”, pranayama, is a powerful practice to maximize “prana”, our life force, in order to rejuvenate the body, and as a means of self-study and self-transformation. This breathing practice may look easy, but to do it correctly and get the full benefits requires a really good teacher. This book is the place to start.
*For resting adults, according to John Hopkins Medicine.
Comments will be approved before showing up.