Deep Breathing

As life and technology seem to drive us to move at warp speed, how can we remain calm, confident, and capable even as we complete to-do lists, reach for goals, and show ourselves present in relationships? There are many answers to this question, but the most simple and immediate is to slow down and take some deep breaths.

What is a deep breath? It is a breath that makes the diaphragm expand, one that makes your belly get bigger and then shrink back when the breath is expelled. It does not lift your chest (that is a shallow breath). Why does that matter?

Deep breathing leads to many amazing health benefits, including:

  • Your metabolism rate improves (over time, you can reset your body’s metabolism to a permanently improved rate)
  • Your body’s oxygen supply increases (this raises your thermic level and helps to burn extra fat!)
    • When combined with movement and proper diet, deep breathing can be a huge aid to weight loss. In a recent study, researchers found: “By substituting 1 hour of rest for 1 hour of moderate exercise such as jogging, the metabolic rate is increased seven-fold, removing an additional 40 g of carbon from the body, increasing the daily total by around 20% to 240 g”. Read the article for yourself here: Yes!
  • Your lymph system is stimulated (supports toxin removal)
  • Your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system is calmed (conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract)
  • Your muscles relax
  • Your breathing rate slows down
  • Your blood pressure decreases
  • Your levels of nitric acid are increased (as a vasodilator, nitric acid signals the blood vessels to relax, allowing them to expand)
  • Your overall stress response diminishes
  • Your lung health is maintained and may even improve
    • When you have healthy lungs, breathing is natural and easy. You breathe in and out with your diaphragm doing about 80 percent of the work to fill your lungs with a mixture of oxygen and other gases, and then to send the waste gas out. Lung HelpLine respiratory therapist Mark Courtney compares the process to a screen door with a spring, opening and shutting on its own. “Our lungs are springy, like the door. Over time, though, with asthma and especially with COPD, our lungs lose that springiness. They don’t return to the same level as when you start breathing, and air gets trapped in our lungs,” Courtney explains.
      Over time, stale air builds up, leaving less room for the diaphragm to contract and bring in fresh oxygen. With the diaphragm not working to full capacity, the body starts to use other muscles in the neck, back and chest for breathing. This translates into lower oxygen levels, and less reserve for exercise and activity. If practiced regularly, breathing exercises can help rid the lungs of accumulated stale air, increase oxygen levels and get the diaphragm to return to its job of helping you breathe.

What is the best way to practice deep breathing? Again, there are many schools of thought on this. But there are a few things that are fundamental to every practice:

  • Make time every day (or most days) for your deep breathing practice
  • Take 15-30 minutes per day to practice if you can. Even 5 minutes, when done regularly, can make a huge difference.
  • Practice when you are alert and focused – NOT when you are getting ready to rest or sleep
  • Practice with minimum distractions (light, motion, noise, electronics,etc.)
  • Wear loose clothing and sit with your spine straight and your shoulders back, head and chin up
  • Yoga may be demanding physically and does include movement, but the benefits gained from proper breathing during this practice are many

What if I don’t have time to follow a longer deep breathing practice?

You may be overscheduled and may not be dedicating enough time to self-care. I don’t say this in a judgmental way, but simply as an observation. The good news is that even a few deep breaths can make a huge difference. I’m sure you’ve heard that you should “count to 10” when feeling rushed? Make it a 20 count and use Dr. Weil’s  4-7-8 technique:

Note: Pursed-lips breathing (such as shown in Dr. Weil’s video) can slow down your breathing, reducing the work of breathing by keeping your airways open longer. This makes it easier for the lungs to function and improves the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. This breathing exercise is often easier for beginners than diaphragmatic breathing, and you can do it anywhere and at any time.

Is shallow breathing dangerous?

Yes and no. It really depends on the cause of your shallow breathing. Many people have never learned proper breathing techniques and slip into shallow breathing when awake as “normal”. If your shallow breathing is caused by anxious feelings, the breathing itself is not dangerous, but other things going on in your mind and body as well as your breathing would certainly benefit from pursed-lips or deep breathing.

There definitely are times when shallow breathing is an indication of a serious medical condition. If you are taking rapid, shallow breaths and don’t seem to be able to fill up your lungs to capacity, you probably want to see a medical professional to find the reasons why. Here is a short article on some causes that need to be treated quickly:

Are there essential oils that can support deep breathing?

Absolutely! doTERRA Cerrified Pure Therapeutic Grade essential oils can be an important part of your deep breathing lifestyle. Peppermint is foundational for supporting open airways when inhaled and when combined with a pure carrier oil and massaged onto the sinus areas, throat, chest, over the lungs (front and back), and around the navel. In combination with other oils that provide respiratory support (Laurel Leaf, Eucalyptus*, Melaleuca/Tea Tree*, Lemon*, Cardamom*, Ravintsara, and Ravensara), Peppermint can be found in the doTERRA Breathe line of products (vapor stick ointment, liquid, Touch roll-on, and lozenges). Oils marked with * are also available as singles for respiratory support.

I have extremely sensitive skin on my face, neck, and chest, so I love to diffuse Peppermint or Breathe but often use other oils topically to support deep breathing, especially when I am experiencing congestion. A couple of my favorites are Myrrh and Blue Tansy. And Cardamom is amazing in a mug of hot water as a tea to soothe coughing and a raw throat so that I breathe deeply.

Emotional aromatherapy can help to sooth anxious feelings. A few oils/blends that are very helpful in this regard are Basil (renewal from intense mental strain), PastTense (emotional and head tension), Console (emotional pain from loss, grief, tragedy), and Serenity (inability to unwind).

Take time to BREATHE DEEPLY!

For more helpful practices and essential oil recommendations to support a life brimming with calm, confidence, and capability, contact Wellness Made Simple.

 Wellness Made Simple helps you to simplify the way YOU do well…for life!

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