Feb. 12, 2013

Importance Of Proper Breathing In Reduction Of Stress

Breathing is a natural human function.  We breathe in order to live.  Breathing is more than just an exchange of new air for old; it is also a way of life.   Did you know that your whole attitude in life can be seen in the way you breathe?

In today’s noisy, high-stress society many of us exist in ways that compromise our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.   Throughout our day we may carry enormous amounts of stress which cause tension throughout our bodies which can hinder the flow of breath—life-force throughout our bodies.

Breathing is the process that moves air in and out of the lungs.  Breathing is only one process that delivers oxygen to where it is needed in the body and removes carbon dioxide.  Another important process involves the movement of blood by the circulatory system.  In addition to removing carbon dioxide, breathing results in loss of water from the body.

Breathing, called ventilation, consists of two phases: inspiration and expiration.  Whereas breathing is involved with the movement of air in and out of the chest (thoracic cavity), respiration involves the exchange of gases in the lungs.  With each breath air travels in the lungs.  It is here that respiration occurs.  External respiration is the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the air and the blood in the lungs.

The body controls breathing through the respiratory center in the brainstem and is responsible for controlling the breathing rate.  It sends messages to the respiratory muscles telling them when to breathe.   Breathing is unique from other functions in that it can be regulated voluntarily.

The primary role of breathing is gas-exchange.  Our cells need oxygen and their waste product, carbon dioxide, needs to be expelled.  Breathing is an automatic body function.  Controlled by the respiratory center of the brain we can also deliberately change our rate of breathing. 

The brain sets the breathing rate according to the carbon dioxide level, rather the oxygen level.  Breathing patterns change as stress occurs.  Did you know that typically in anxiety, small shallow breaths are taken in which one utilizes the shoulders rather than the diaphragm to move air in and out of the lungs which in effect empties too much carbon dioxide in the blood which upsets the body’s balance of gases?  Shallow, over-breathing (hyperventilation) can prolong feelings of anxiety that gives rise to physical symptoms of stress including chest tightness, chronic fatigue, faintness and lightheadedness, panic, headaches, heart palpitations, insomnia, muscle aches, twitches, tension, tingling, numb and cold hands and face.

When a person is relaxed, breathing is nasal, slow, even, and gentle.   A relaxed breathing pattern seems to calm the autonomic nervous system (that which governs the bodily functions).   Benefits may include lowered blood pressure and heart rate, a reduced amount of stress hormones, reduced lactic acid build-up in muscle tissue, balanced levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, improved immune system functioning, increased energy, and feelings of calm and well-being. 

There are different breathing techniques for relaxation, however, the general aim is to shift from upper chest breathing to abdominal breathing.

Different healing systems from different cultures have long realized the healing benefits of the breath.   Many holistic practitioners believe that spiritual insight or revelation, as you will, is possible through conscious breathing.

Breath as Life-Force

The breath is sometimes referred to as the life-force as it is the purest form of human nourishment on the planet earth.  As the body anticipates the breath, it organizes itself in a way to make room for it.

The breath seeds life and affects everything we do.   Proper breathing or breathwork aid in the elimination or reduction of anxiety, fatigue, stress reduction, weight loss, smoking cessation, high blood pressure, asthma, other breathing difficulties, and most importantly, enhance well-being, health, and vitality.

Breathwork can mean different things to different people but in its simplest form is the practice of using a conscious technique to enhance physical, emotional, and spiritual health.  Breathwork can be combined with methods like meditation and yoga or it can be used alone.

In conclusion, if you are suddenly surprised or frightened, air is usually sucked in and held onto which is a spontaneous reaction as your body is preparing for fight or flight.  Contrarily, if your body is simply reacting to worries or fears that cannot be fought or run from, unknowingly the air continues to be held in.  Holding onto breath leads to shallow breathing which leads to air taken into the upper chest.   This can keep the body in a permanent state of stress and tension.  Stress is reflected directly according to the method of breathing; the more stressed, the more shallow the breathing is likely to be.  So as you can see, shallow breathing limits the amount of oxygen available to the body causing the whole system to work less efficiently thus a great contributor to the chronic fatigue so often accompanying stress.

Hyperventilation is another faulty breathing habit brought on by stress, another means of responding to threat.  In this scenario, extra oxygen is taken in for emergency use.   If it is not really needed because the situation is stress rather than emergency, the balance of gases in the lungs become upset which may cause dizziness, faintness, sweating, numbness, and chest pains which are the result of too little carbon dioxide in the lungs.  Hyperventilators believe they need more air so they take in more air when it is more helpful to breathe out.

In conclusion, breathing is the bridge between the conscious and the subconscious. The close connection between our breathing and emotional state lends an opportunity to influence the effect of stress upon us.   Deeper regular breathing can make us feel much calmer and more relaxed.   Note that shallow breathing habits over the years may result in keeping down feelings which can come up once the deep breathing is practiced.   THUS IF YOU ARE AT RISK OF BEING TRIGGERED BY SEVERE TRAUMA, YOU WILL NEED TO LEAVE THIS SITE AND SEEK PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ATTENTION/COUNSELING.    Otherwise, most people prefer to cope with these feelings rather than continue living with long-term stress.

Deeper, regular breathing slows down the heart rate and reduces sympathetic nervous activity.  In practice, this means the Fight or Flight Syndrome is far less likely to be unnecessarily activated when we are breathing deeply.

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