Breathing. It’s something that most of us don’t think much about, mainly because we don’t have to think much about it. An automatic function, like the pumping of our hearts, that, in reasonably healthy people, just happens. Until something occurs that makes us pay attention – a cold, allergies, asthma, even water down the wrong pipe – breathing isn’t something we pay much attention to.
It seems almost startling though, if we really give thought to all the details about breath, that we don’t pay more attention to it. After all, we are stoking our cells with oxygen, constantly, through our breathing, and fueling our body so we can go on living. It is literally a vital act, ceaselessly and unconsciously performed, and anyone who has ever choked or fought for breath can attest to its importance. So why is it something many of us barely recognize?
How To Breathe: Breathe In
Athletes must pay attention to and regulate their breathing in order to optimize their performance, something that most of us remember only after we develop a stitch in our side and have to slow down. Breath plays an essential role in all forms of yoga, and in meditation as well.
People in pain often breath rapidly and shallowly, or hold their breath, which actually contributes to how badly they feel. Apparently, proper, healthy breathing fills a person’s abdomen with air, not so much their chest. I was pleased to note that my abs fill up when I breathe; however, I am just as guilty as the next person of improper breathing, as I realized yesterday when my headache seemed to finally relent a little when I went outside. I had been breathing shallowly, holding my breath for periods of a time without even realizing, but when I got out into the fresh, crisp air, I was encouraged to take deep breaths of it.
Filling my lungs with air, slowly and thoughtfully, I started to feel better. When we’re in pain like this, when we’re stressed out, when we’re hunched over, we don’t breathe properly. When our lungs don’t take in enough air, they don’t function at their best capacity. When our lungs don’t function properly, we can get stressed out and sick. Negative cycle, huh?
How To Breathe: And Release
So how do we breathe properly? Yogic breathing advocates breaths through the nose, and science seems to agree that excessive mouth breathing is not as healthy for us as deep, thoughtful nose breathing. The words ‘thoughtful nose breathing’ sound a bit silly, but when I think of how crummy I feel with a stuffed nose, they start to seem very sensible.
Consciousness of our breathing, even for just a few minutes a day, can help de-stress us, bring clarity to our minds (literally, we are flooding our brains with oxygen, which it needs in great quantities), and calm us. If we all took a moment to take a deep breath or two before reacting, especially in anger, I bet we would notice that we (and the people around us!) have more positive days. Feel better. Smell the roses, deeply. It will be (pun quite intended) a breath of fresh air.