Top 5 Exercises to Improve your Breathing

Breathing exercises have become very commonly talked about since COVID-19 became prominent. With many people also suffering with Long Covid, exercises became one of the main treatment pathways for long covid sufferers. However, breathing exercises are incredibly beneficial for everybody, not just those with a breathing related issue.

Deep breathing is the healthiest way to breathe, writes Tim Allardyce. When we are babies, we are all deep breathers. If you observe a sleeping new born, you will see the child’s entire belly rise and fall with each breath.

Deep breathing infuses the blood with extra oxygen and also stimulates the body to release endorphins. It is one of the simplest yet most effective stress management techniques. You can do it anywhere, anytime, and it becomes even more effective with practice.

In deep, abdominal breathing, the upward and downward movement of the diaphragm, combined with the outward and inward movement of the belly, ribcage, and lower back, helps to detoxify our inner organs, promote blood flow and peristalsis, and pump the lymph more efficiently through our lymphatic system. The lymphatic system, of course, is an important part of our immune system and has a great impact on our health.

Deep Breathing for Neck Pains:

By deep breathing and using your abdomen, you take pressure off the upper ribs and thorax. For shallow breathers, the muscles controlling the upper ribs and sternum (breast bone) become chronically shortened. These muscles predominantly occur at the front of the neck and chest (e.g. sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, pecotorals). If these muscle are overworked, they will become shortened and will pull the head and neck forwards. This will lead to strain on the back of the neck further aggravated by prolonged activities of reading, driving or using a computer.

Deep Breathing for Athletes:

In a study published in the May 2, 1998, issue of The Lancet, researchers working with cardiac patients at the University of Pavia, Italy, have established an optimum healthy breath rate of 6 breaths a minute. When you consider that the average resting breath rate is 12-14 times a minute, this represents a substantial reduction in breath rate. Patients who learned to slow down their breathing through special deep breathing exercises ended up with higher levels of blood oxygen and were able to perform better on exercise tests.

Deep Breathing for Anxiety:

As we begin to learn how to observe our breathing, many of us may notice that even at rest our breathing is faster than the "average" rate of 12 to 14 times a minute (a rate which is already faster than it needs to be). In fact, many of us, without knowing it, habitually "hyperventilate"--that is, we take quick, shallow breaths from the top of our chest. This kind of breathing sharply reduces the level of carbon dioxide in our blood. This reduced level of carbon dioxide causes the arteries, including the carotid artery going to the brain, to constrict, thus reducing the flow of blood throughout the body. When this occurs, no matter how much oxygen we may breathe into our lungs, our brain and body will experience a shortage of oxygen. The lack of oxygen switches on the sympathetic nervous system--our "fight or flight reflex"--which makes us tense, anxious, and irritable. Such breathing also reduces our ability to think clearly, and tends to put us at the mercy of obsessive thoughts and images. Some researchers believe that hyperventilation can actually magnify our psychological problems and conflicts, and that chronic hyperventilation is intimately bound up with our anxieties, apprehensions, and fears. The key to slowing down our breathing is not to try to slow it down, but rather to learn how to breathe more deeply, using our diaphragm, belly, rib cage, and lower back in the breathing process.

Deep Breathing during Menopause

Research in a variety of fields has shown that breathing deeply can improve our health in many ways. Now comes evidence that deep breathing can help women who experience hot flashes during menopause.

In an article by Carol Krucoff in The Washington Post (August 18, 1998, page Z16), for instance, Robert Freedman, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences in the School of Medicine at Wayne State University in Detroit, points out that studies show that the frequency of hot flashes can be reduced by about 50 percent through slow, deep breathing. According to the article, women going through menopause who use belly breathing and slow down their respiratory rate (to seven or eight cycles of inhalation and exhalation a minute) at the onset of a hot flash can apparently either “abort” it or “reduce its severity”.

Deep Breathing for Computer Users:

Those of us whose work requires extreme visual concentration (and the list is a long one, especially in this age of computer technology) can improve our work and increase our energy by making sure that our face muscles are relaxed and by looking away frequently from the work we are doing. This will help our breathing. When our face muscles become tense and our eyes lock onto anything too long, diaphragmatic movement during breathing decreases. This makes our breathing shallower and means that we're taking in less oxygen. What's more, this shallow breathing decreases the lymph flow in our body thus reducing the effectiveness of our immune system. So be sure you check your face muscles every 15 minutes or so to see if they're tense. And be sure to let your eyes move frequently. This will help relax your diaphragm and improve your breathing.

The Importance of Breathing Through Your Nose

Except for emergencies, our breathing was designed to take place mainly through our nose. When we breathe through our nose, the hairs that line our nostrils filter out particles of dust and dirt that can be injurious to our lungs. If too many particles accumulate on the membranes of the nose, we automatically secret mucus to trap them or sneeze to expel them. The mucous membranes of our septum, which divides the nose into two cavities, further prepare the air for our lungs by warming and humidifying it.

Top 5 Exercises to Improve Deep Breathing:

1. Diaphragmatic Deep Breathing Lying: Place one hand on your stomach, and your other hand on your chest. Take a deep breath in, and push your belly (and your hand) upwards. Try and keep the movement of your chest to a minimum, so you concentrate on the deep breathing.

2. Diaphragmatic Deep Breathing Sitting: Place one hand on your stomach, and the other on your chest. Take a deep breath in, and push your belly (and your hand) outwards. Try and keep the movement of your chest to a minimum, so you concentrate on the deep breathing. Relax your neck and shoulders as you breathe. This will help you to use your diaphragm, the main inspiratory muscle.

3. Lions Breath: Take a deep breath in, and then exhale and push your tongue out as far as possible. You will feel a stretch under the bottom of your tongue.

4. Forced Exhalation: Open your mouth, and breath out hard. Don't forget to pull your stomach in. It’s a good strengthening exercise for the diaphragm, that can help improve your deep breathing mechanics.

5. Piston Breathing: Standing or sitting with good posture, take a deep breath in through your nose. You should concentrate on filling the lungs, and letting the stomach move outwards. Forcibly push the air out through your nose repeatedly, until your lungs are emptied of air.

Breathing exercises are mega-important. Everyone should breathe well. Breathing is probably the most fundamental thing we do as human, that we can control.

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