I’m light as a feather, but the strongest person can’t hold me for much more than a minute. What am I?
It’s something that most people don’t typically even think about… something so simple, yet so vital. We can control our respiration consciously, but a majority of the time it is controlled subconsciously by respiratory centers in the brain stem. Most individuals don’t even realize that this is an important skill that can be life-changing in a variety of ways. You may think, “I’m still alive, so I must be good enough at it.” Let’s take a look at a few of the many different ways our breathing can affect our bodies, and see if we can do better than “good enough”.
Our body is made up of trillions of cells. That’s what we’re made of. When we break it down and look at it like this, we can see that our overall health and wellbeing is a direct reflection of the health and wellbeing of our building blocks, our cells. What do our cells require for energy? Oxygen. So if we can acquire and transport oxygen more efficiently, the overall health of every single cell in our body is going to increase, which directly improves the overall health of our human body. Better breathing directly affects every single system of the body. This frequently does not get enough attention but when brought to the forefront, makes perfect sense. From the digestive to immune, lymphatic, nervous systems and more, better breathing equals better overall health.
For example, let’s take a look at the cardiovascular system, because hypertension alone is so prevalent. Proper breathing in general, but specifically deep breathing, decreases muscle tension and triggers the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). This allows the blood vessels to vasodilate (expand), which decreases blood pressure. The PNS also triggers the release of endorphins (our feel-good chemicals). Endorphins make us feel good by relieving stress and acting as pain killers by reducing our perception of pain. The decreased stress produces a calming effect, which increases our mental clarity. Decreased stress also has a profound impact on us, not just in terms of quality of life, but the effects that it has systemically with disease. The cycle goes around, showing us that breathing doesn’t impact every single system and organ and cell in the body solely via oxygen, but also with the stress chemicals that get (or don’t get) produced.
Whoa, all this just from breathing? That is only the tip of the iceberg, as we haven’t even mentioned the musculoskeletal system. Do you know anyone with tightness in their shoulders, upper traps, and neck? That’s the go-to spot when somebody asks for a massage. However, it doesn’t have to be. Stay tuned for part two, where we discuss the musculoskeletal aspects of breathing.