“Stress, through the actions of stress hormones, has many detrimental effects on immune function which in turn have implications for health. Interestingly, the use of relaxation techniques has been shown to reverse some of these deleterious effects on immune function. Thus, the role of stress in disease, and the usefulness of practices that reduce stress should not be underestimated.” (1)
Breathing is a fundamental process of the human body, but we need to learn how to breathe correctly. Mindfulness and meditation are intimately involved with the breath. The breath is the crucial point of meditation and mindfulness but is also the center of our existence.
Even though you may not be noticing that you are breathing incorrectly, irregular breathing could be harming your body. Each cell in your body is triggered by respiration, which is the main reason why you need to develop proper breathing skills to create balance within the body.
Moreover, when we do not breathe correctly, the body suffers from oxygen deprivation, which may lead to health problems. Proper breathing involves both processes: inhaling and exhaling, but it is also essential to consider the other elements inherent in the breath. To breathe correctly, we need to use a large part of our lung capacity, and it is possible to achieve this by following a constant practice.
Louis J. Ignarro was one of three pharmacologists who won The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1998 for discovering how nitric oxide is produced in the body and how it works:
"Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. It’s not just something you do in yoga class – breathing this way actually provides a powerful medical benefit that can help the body fight viral infections.”
The practice of breathing techniques involves many aspects: (2).
How do we breathe?
Breathing is a process that starts by inhaling air into the nose. The air travels down the body, passing through the throat and into the windpipe. Then it passes through the windpipe's air passages to our bronchial tubes, which must be open to allow the lung's performance. If the bronchial tubes are affected by inflammation or mucus, then breathing becomes difficult.
At the lungs, the bronchial tubes divide into bronchioles that end in alveoli. Alveoli are tiny sacs surrounded by capillaries where oxygen flows through the blood. Next, blood travels to the heart, and the heart pumps it to every cell of the body.
The cells use oxygen to make carbon dioxide, and the blood is in charge of carrying the carbon dioxide back to the lungs, and these go out as an exhalation.
Inhale, Exhale: Benefits of Breathing
We often hear about inhaling and exhaling to keep calm, but we need to pay attention to how to do it properly. The inhalation/exhalation process brings oxygen to the body and also has the power to change your emotions and reactions.
The following are several benefits of breathing correctly: (3):
- When you learn how to breathe more slowly, gently and deeply; this helps you to calm down and relax in stressful moments.
- Conscious breathing can also reduce your feelings of tension and anxiety in a high-tension situation or a difficult task.
- Breathing deeply will also improve your concentration and memory levels; this can be the key to excel in your profession or academic endeavors.
- If you decide to change your breathing to a deeper and more diaphragmatic one, you will feel when your mind and your whole body calm down because deep breathing is the easiest way to trigger a relaxation response that involves your entire body.
- Deep breathing helps to relax the body, handle stress, regulates the emotions, and improves mental functions, so we can concentrate even in challenging situations. It is a way to transform tension into relaxation just by effectively managing your breathing. Also, the benefits of deep breathing include lower blood pressure, lower stress hormone levels, and increased immune function.
Types of breath
- Abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing
This type of breath involves taking a long deep breath to reach the abdomen, allowing it to expand while inhaling. When exhaling, the stomach squeezes, and the air goes out.
The diaphragm is a muscle that lies at the base of the lungs and allows an efficient breath. When the muscle is not engaged, the levels of oxygen in the blood are low.
Abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing technique allows the lungs expansion, relaxes muscle tension, balance brain chemistry while decreasing stress hormones like adrenaline and increasing wellness hormones like oxytocin and prolactin.
- Thoracic breath
This kind of breath consists of breathing into the lungs upwards and outwards and could be useful at practicing meditation or yoga to become aware of the lung area.
- Clavicle breathing
This type of breath occurs when you breathe into the lungs until the expansion is felt at the upper portion of the lungs, around the neck's base. It is also called shallow breath.
- Yogi breath
Yoga uses several meditation techniques, like the breath, which consist of an amalgamation of all of the above. To do this, you must start taking a long deep breath, filling the abdominal area, the chest, and the clavicle areas to exhale finally.
Don't forget to smile!
Smiling is a way to shift your overall mood immediately. Just by breathing correctly, you can have a better smile because proper breathing techniques allow your energy levels to increase, thus providing a natural control for anxiety and stress (4).
Benefits of smiling:
- Boost your mood: The muscle activity, while smiling, sends signals to the brain for releasing endorphins and serotonin, which are the hormones that boost your mood.
- Reduce stress: Smiling allows cortisol and catecholamine's reduction, releasing more endorphins, having a similar effect as physical exercise.
- Relax the muscles: Smiling is a way to relieve tension and relax the muscles.
- Boost the immune system: Having a smile could help you increase your level of immune cells, thus boosting your immune system and improving your body's ability to fight off infections.
AnJenette Afridi, MA, ERYT-500, is a pioneer in Lifestyle Medicine, Mindful-Based Strategies, and Creator of INHALE EXHALE SMILE℠ Meditation and Mindfulness Targeted Skills-Based Training. AnJenette is a Lifestyle Medicine Consultant and a Meditation and Mindfulness Master Teacher with 30+ years in private practice. “AJ’s” professional credentials include a Master’s Degree in Psychology (MA) 1997, Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (ERYT-500) 2002, American Psychological Association (APA) Member 1996, American College of Lifestyle Medicine Member, Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine Member, and Harvard Medical School CEU’s in Lifestyle Medicine and Mind Body Medicine (Herbert Benson, MD) the last 15 years.
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AnJenette aka AJ has worked with corporations, hospitals, health centers, schools, and private clientele including adults and children. She is often featured at public and private in-person and online events, and she hosts events as well. AJ's warmth, credibility, and energetic sense of humor create an atmosphere that supports expansion, creativity, and abundant possibility.
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This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical issue or disease. The author does not in any way guarantee or warrant the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of this article and will not be held responsible for the content of this article. The information in this article is not intended to replace a personal relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Always consult your personal health care provider for specific medical advice.