The single most important thing you do every day is to breathe, but have you ever stopped to think about the quality of your breath? Did you know that how you breathe can directly affect your health and emotions?
Breathing falls under the autonomic nervous system meaning you are not required to think before you breathe, you do this automatically as a life saving reflex. However, breathing can also be controlled consciously as well. It is the only physiological process that can be either voluntary or involuntary. The breath is the link between the mind and the body according to the ancient science of yoga. When you can control your breath, you can control your mind.
Emotions are also directly correlated to our breath. When you are angry or upset, the breath becomes shallow, uneven, and rapid. This is because of the fight or flight response to the disturbing event; the body is ready for physical action. When you are calm and serene, your breathing is deep, even, and slow. Because of this correlation, if you want to change your emotional state all you need to do is change your breathing.
Most of us chest breathe, meaning we are not using our diaphragm, the muscle specifically designed for breathing that lies at the bottom of our ribcage. As it contracts, the diaphragm acts to push the abdominal organs down and forward providing an internal massage important for increasing oxygen and blood flow to this region. Chest breathers do not engage the diaphragm and so are not drawing oxygen fully into their lungs. The expansion stops at the mid portion of the lungs, therefore the volume of oxygen intake and gas exchange is not as efficient.
The most productive way to get oxygen into the body is known as diaphragmatic breathing. Simply sit upright in a chair or lay flat on the floor and place your hand on your abdomen. As you inhale, imagine you are filling a balloon from the bottom to the top inside your abdomen. Feel your hand raise up as your breath fills your lungs slowly and evenly to a count of 3 or 4. After your lungs are full, slowly deflate your balloon and feel your hand descend to the same count of 3 or 4. Do this at least five times a day.
Cultivating an awareness of how you breathe and practicing breath control are simple tools you can begin using right now to boost your energy, regulate your moods, and improve your heart and lung health.