Breathing should be simple, right? We may get so caught up in our day-to-day activities that we forget to breathe, or at least breathe well. As Dr. Andrew Weill, a pioneer of complementary and alternative medicine says, "If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly."
Our autonomic system has two sides. Our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is also known as Rest & Digest, while our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is often referred to as the Fight, Flight, or Freeze response. Being in a prolonged sympathetic state can have adverse health effects including: sleep (can cause insomnia) weight gain, elevated blood pressure, elevated blood glucose, dry mouth, impaired immune system, impaired digestion and detoxification, impaired thyroid function, impaired reproductive system function/ lowered libido. In contrast, in the parasympathetic state: the body heals, weight loss can occur more readily, sleep is improved, blood pressure and blood glucose can normalize, the digestive system works more efficiently, the liver is able to detoxify more efficiently, the immune system is kept strong and the body is able to fight off bacteria, viruses, and parasites, the reproductive system functions better and sex hormones function optimally.
There are ways to optimize this autonomic process. Here are four ways to breathe!
- Inhale and Exhale through your nose, versus your mouth (unless suffering from sinus difficulty). Gently place the tip of your tongue on the back of your top front teeth, at the crease where your teeth meet the roof of your mouth.
- Diaphragmatic Breathing. We encourage you to tap into diaphragmatic breathing anytime you can remember to do so. Your diaphragm is the muscle on the bottom of your ribcage. On your inhalation, your stomach will expand outward as your chest cavity fills with air, pushing your rib cage out and apart. On your exhalation, your abdominal muscles and ribs will pull together – envision drawing your belly button back and down, towards your low spine. (Instead of breathing into your heart and chest area, which is where many people tend to concentrate their breathing. This does not allow for optimum benefit from respiration and can also contribute to neck and shoulder tightness and pain over time.)
- 4-7-8 Breathing. Inhale for 4 count, hold for 7 counts, exhale to 8 counts; pause at the end of your exhalation. Repeat 4-7-8 cycle for four breaths. Over time, increase to eight breaths of the 4-7-8 cycle, 2x per day, or whenever you feel stress building in your body and mind.
- Box Breathing. Breathe in for 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, hold for 4. Do this for three cycles and then return to normal breathing.
Your body relies on oxygen so it’s no wonder why breathing is so important. Breathe better, and you’ll see that you’ll sleep better, digest food more efficiently, improve your body’s immune response, and reduce stress levels.