By Sally Rummel
Breathing is something you do every day without giving it much thought.
In fact, the average person takes about 20,000 breaths every single day, 12 to 20 per minute, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But if you breathe too quickly and not deeply enough, you’re missing out on some important health benefits.
In these crazy pandemic times, breathing mindfully can help you relieve stress, relax your brain and give you a healthier body, according to pulmonary experts quoted in Woman’s Day magazine.
“There’s a tremendous connection between respiration and our emotions,” said Ralph Potkin, M.D., a pulmonary specialist. “Breathing properly can help you relax, sleep, feel more positive and reduce depression.”
Deep breathing and meditation can help fight many health maladies that can be stress-related, including anxiety, depression, heart attacks, strokes, irritable bowel syndrome, infertility and insomnia, said cardiologist Herbert Benson, M.D., Mind Body professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. It can also benefit people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Slow breathing techniques can also help you find your focus in deeper states of prayer, meditation, and contemplation.
You might also live longer.
Controlled, slow breathing helps the heart rate and nervous system become more adaptive and flexible, often resulting in better outcomes for a wide range of medical conditions and longevity.
Whatever your age and wherever you are, you can tap into its stress-busting, mood-lifting benefits at any time.
Here’s how you can get started:
Stand Up, or Sit Up Straight
We all know that a sedentary, “sitting” lifestyle isn’t good for you. “Sitting compresses the base of the lungs slightly and constricts downward movement of the diaphragm,” said Bohdan Pichurko, M.D., a pulmonologist and director of Cleveland Clinic’s Pulmonary Function Testing Laboratories. “This reduces the air you breathe in by about 5 to 10 percent.”
However, you can improve your sitting posture by sitting up straight, and resting your shoulders against the back of your chair. Avoid sitting for long periods of time, he advises.
If your job is sedentary, consider using a standing desk for 15 to 30 minutes per hour, if possible, or get up every hour and take a walking break. When standing, keep your shoulders comfortable back. Dr. Pichurko suggests.
Breathe Deeply from your Belly
The diaphragm, the muscle at the bottom of your rib cage, should be the piston driving your breath, said Dr. Pichurko.
The other muscles used in breathing—on the neck and shoulders and between the ribs—tire quickly and don’t deliver air as effectively to the base of the lungs, where it is absorbed the best. This type of breath is like “puppy dog panting,” delivering short, rapid, shallow breaths that can make a person tired and anxious.
To avoid this, inhale and exhale through your nose, which causes you to slow down your breathing.
Try this exercise: seated or standing, place your hand on your belly button and watch it as you breathe. If you’re breathing correctly, your hand will be pushed out by your abdomen as you inhale. If your hand remains still, you’re breathing too high up in your chest.
Gently pressing your hand on your belly will help ensure that your breathing is coming from the diaphragm.
You can check yourself for proper breathing while walking or performing a light task. “It’s a great way of retraining your body until you can breathe properly without the hand for guidance,” said Dr. Pichurko.
Best Benefits come from Frequency
Do these slow-breathing exercises regularly for major health and psychological benefits. Aim for six breaths a minute for the best relaxation, said Frederick Muench, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York City, quoted in Woman’s Day. Try to inhale and exhale about every 10 seconds, which puts you in an ideal state: calm but still alert.
Deeply, Slowly, Steadily
Breathe deeply and slowly for 15 to 20 minutes. Aim for six breaths a minute, but any pace that is slower than your usual breathing will yield health benefits. Do this in a quiet place without distractions.
And, Do It Daily
Repeat this exercise every day, experts agree. The more often you set aside 15 to 20 minutes to breathe slowly and deeply, the more often your health will benefit.
If you have an anxiety-producing event coming up, focus on your breathing before it happens. You are able to best control this portion of your wellness by having a comfortable procedure to follow, for good health’s sake.