Breathing is a fundamental process that sustains life, but it also holds incredible potential for improving our well-being. By incorporating breath work into our day, we can experience numerous benefits such as reduced stress, improved energy, easier digestion and an increase in overall health.
In Patrick McKeown’s book ‘The Oxygen Advantage’ he outlines the importance of nasal breathing over mouth breathing. Nasal breathing helps filter, humidify, and warm the incoming air, optimising its quality before reaching the lungs. It also encourages diaphragmatic breathing, activating the parasympathetic nervous system which promotes relaxation and reduces our stress response.
Why breathing matters:
Oxygenation: Efficient breathing allows for optimal oxygen exchange in the lungs, supporting the delivery of oxygen to our cells, tissues, and organs. This can increase energy levels, mental clarity, and overall vitality.
Relaxation Response: Focusing on slow, deep breaths activates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting a state of calmness, reducing stress, and enhancing our ability to manage anxiety.
Carbon Dioxide Balance: Proper breathing helps maintain the balance of carbon dioxide in the body, which is essential for oxygen utilisation and maintaining a healthy pH balance.
Breath-work and Digestion
Breathing and digestion are two separate physiological processes, but they can influence each other indirectly. Certain breathing techniques, such as deep diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing, can induce a relaxation response in the body.
When you're relaxed, you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the "rest and digest" mode. This state encourages the release of digestive enzymes, improves blood flow to the digestive organs, and enhances overall digestion and nutrient absorption.
Tips for Supporting Your Breathing:
Nasal Breathing: Whenever possible, breathe through your nose rather than your mouth. Nasal breathing filters, warms, and humidifies the incoming air, promoting optimal air quality and reducing the risk of respiratory issues.
Diaphragmatic Breathing: Practise breathing deeply into your diaphragm instead of shallow chest breathing. This engages the diaphragm, increases lung capacity, and supports efficient oxygen exchange.
Slow Breathing: Aim for a slower breathing rate by consciously taking longer, relaxed breaths. This helps improve oxygen delivery, reduce stress, and encourage a sense of calmness.
Breath Awareness: Regularly check in with your breath throughout the day. Notice if you're holding your breath or breathing shallowly and make a conscious effort to deepen and slow down your breath whenever needed.
Breath-Hold Exercises: Incorporate controlled breath-hold exercises into your routine, such as holding your breath for a few seconds after exhaling or inhaling. Start with shorter holds and gradually increase the duration over time. These exercises can improve carbon dioxide tolerance and enhance oxygen utilisation.
Relaxation Techniques: Explore various relaxation techniques like meditation, guided breathing exercises, or yoga to promote deep relaxation and mindfulness. These practices can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
Posture and Movement: Maintain good posture to ensure optimal breathing mechanics. Engage in regular physical activity and incorporate movement practices that emphasise deep breathing, such as yoga, tai chi, or Pilates.
Nasal Clearing: Keep your nasal passages clear by using nasal rinsing techniques, practising nasal breathing exercises, or seeking appropriate medical treatment if you have chronic nasal congestion.
Understanding the importance of breathing and incorporating breath work into our lives can have a profound impact on our well-being. By adopting simple practices like nasal breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, slow breathing, breath awareness, and relaxation techniques, we can optimise our breathing patterns, reduce stress, and improve overall health and give our digestive system a helping hand. Try the breathing techniques above and see which one feels best for you.