#Breath is one of the #7pillars of your Strength Temple. Our guest contributor, Elizabeth McQuillan explains why.......
Few of us pay much mind to our breathing. Like walking or talking, we accept it as something that just happens, an incidental adjunct to getting on with life. However, each lungful of precious air has the capacity to help us heal, burn fat and energise the entire body.
Sadly, we just don’t do it very well. Without “trying”, simply consider your breathing. If you are like most folk you pull a shallow breath in that barely inflates your lungs. Now really try to breathe in, and notice what happens. If your shoulders have lifted towards your ears, and your chest moves upwards, then you are doing a good job of inflating the apex of your lungs. That leaves a big void of lung tissue redundant.
Years of breathing in this way, exacerbated by holding tension and stress in the neck and shoulder area, means the body is rationed in vital oxygen. It cannot possibly function to best ability. Without inhaling enough oxygen (O2), or exhaling enough carbon dioxide (CO2), problems can manifest in the form of mental fogginess, fatigue and reduced tissue function.
Current recommendations for non-medicinal treatment of stress, anxiety and even depression are rooted in cognitive therapy used alongside the practice of “mindful” breathing.
The sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our fight-or-flight response, can cause all manner of knock-on unhealthy effects when placed under constant stress. In chronic stress, where cortisol and adrenaline are continuously being pumped into the system, it is not uncommon to find depression, muscle pain and tension, insomnia and gut troubles.
Deep and mindful breathing is one of the best ways to offset these effects. It quickly kickstarts the parasympathetic nervous system, which counters the sympathetic response and invokes relaxation. Breathing like this swings the pendulum so that the body chemistry changes to take us from a status of high alert, to feeling altogether more chilled out.
Shallow breathing is also not our friend if we are on the quest to burn fat and lose weight. To metabolise fat stored in the body, our system needs plenty of O2, and a deficit means that what we do have is channeled to more essential places.
Available oxygen will not be used for non-vital body functions (ie fat burning) and will be directed instead to vital functions. Breathing awareness will increase the oxygen circulated by the blood, and the increased oxygen supply will enhance the cells’ ability to turn the stored fatty deposits to energy that the body can use.
In cases of poor general health, cancers, viral illness and poor organ function, it is important to consider the wellbeing of our lymphatic system. This is part of our immune system and is essential in the disease-fighting process. It collects cellular waste, and carries it away for disposal.
Shallow breathing and immobility allow the lymphatic system to become sluggish and congested, organ function to become compromised, and a build-up of toxins to stagnate within the system. This can lead to oedema (perhaps seen as swelling in the feet and ankles) and may even trigger cell pathology.
Since there is no pump to circulate lymph, we rely on arterial pulsations, organ compression, body movement and muscle contraction to do the job. Importantly, we need the pressure changes in the thorax that breathing provides. Shallow breathing simply won’t provide adequate means to get the lymph moving.
Deep and mindful breathing will also increase sporting performance by providing an increase in lung capacity. World Champion freediver, Stig Aavall Severinsen – the first man in the world to hold his breath for over 20 minutes – certainly has the technique down to a fine art.
Remember how a baby breathes, with its tummy rising and falling. Each day set time aside to stand, sit or lie down in a quiet place for five minutes. Don’t force your breath, but allow the air to be drawn into your lungs, and feel your tummy rise. Relax your throat, neck and shoulders, trying to pull the air deeper into your lower chest.
Gently let the breath out (without disturbing an imaginary feather under your nostrils). Play with the breath, and imagine pulling the air into different areas of your chest and body. Be quietly aware of sights, sounds, smells and thoughts that come to you. Don’t dwell on them, but acknowledge them and let them go.
If you practice mindful breathing, the benefits start to manifest themselves really very quickly. Skin is clear and glowing, health and wellbeing improve and there is definitely a renewed calmness and control within life. Well worth a try.