The Benefits of Breathwork

Every Breath We Take

It’s the most natural thing in the world, but most of us are so bad at it, it’s making us sick.

Breathing. It’s one of the few things that all of us who are interested in the business of living must do. And we do it a lot.

16 breaths per minute, on average. That equates to 960 breaths an hour, 23,040 a day, 8,409,600 a year and 672,768,000 breaths over the course of an average lifetime.

You’d think, with all that practice, that we’d be good at it. But we’re not. When it comes to breathing, most of us are hopeless, and it’s making us sick.

Why Don’t We Breathe Properly?

In large part, our modern lifestyle is to blame. Stress is a constant factor in our lives and too many of us are busy being sedentary. We sit at our desks, we hunch over our computers, and we take short, sharp sips of breath as we try to navigate the various strands of our lives.

And, of course, we breathe unconsciously. It takes little effort and absolutely no thought to breathe. With so much else going on in our lives, something which can be done without thinking is to be celebrated. We can put it to one side, not worry about it.

Trouble is, proper, healthy breathing requires conscious effort.

Why Does Poor Breathing Contribute to Poor Health?

When we breathe, most of us only use one third of our natural lung capacity. Instead of using our diaphragms as our main breathing muscle, we rely on the weaker intercostal muscles in our rib cage. The result is that we breathe too shallow and too quick. We’re not drinking in the amount of oxygen that we should and we’re not ridding ourselves of sufficient carbon dioxide.

And so, we become subject to ill health. Starved of oxygen, which is vital for producing energy and for the maintenance of healthy cells, our bodies experience a toxic build-up. This not only affects our levels of vitality, but also lowers our ability to resist disease. As a result, we become susceptible to a whole host of problems, including fatigue, chest and back pain, sleep disorders and stomach upsets, whilst other conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and hypertension can be exacerbated.

Five Benefits of Breathing Properly

Taking 5 to 10 minutes every day to connect with our breath can deliver us enormous benefits, both physically and mentally. Five proven benefits of adding breathing exercises to our daily routine include:

    • Lower blood pressure - Recent research conducted by scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Arizona found that mindful breathing exercises, undertaken over a 6-week span, led to a drop in blood pressure equal to commonly prescribed medications.
    • A quality night’s sleep - Proper breathing helps ease muscle tension and encourages us to relax. Over time - and especially if practiced in the evening, prior to going to bed - this will result in a better night’s sleep than many of us are currently enjoying
  • Improved posture - Proper breathing requires us to fill up our lungs, something which incidentally helps to straighten our spines and bring us into alignment. This has surprising health benefits, relieving us of the neck and back tension typically associated with shallow breathing and a hunched posture, and helping mitigate problems like elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, chronic stress, anxiety, poor posture, headaches and a restricted range of motion in the upper back and shoulders. 
  • Increased energy and overall fitness - Breathing exercises increase oxygen levels and blood flow, both important to our stores of energy. Significantly, this also helps us work out better over time and improve our fitness levels (more oxygen means our body has more fuel to exercise, allowing us to exercise our muscles harder, improve circulation, burn fat, and support our overall heart health).
  • Improved mental health, including reduced stress and anxiety - Proper breathing not only has physiological benefits (helping reduce blood pressure and improve our posture), it can also help improve our outlook and general state of mind. Above all else, it helps to calm us, and can be an important tool in fighting stress and anxiety. When we feel anxious or highly stressed, for example, we will often start to take short, sharp sips of breath directly from our chest, an action which can have a cascading effect, resulting in dizziness and an increased heart rate. By breathing slowly and deeply through our noses, we will not only slow our heart rate but send a message to our brain that everything is okay and that it can start to wind down.
  • So, How Do I Breathe Properly?

    If we want to improve our breathing, we need to make it a conscious action. We need to be aware, first, of how we breathe, and - on the back of this - what we can do to breathe better.

    For most of us, the problem is that we breathe from our chest, rather than our abdomen. We need to learn to breathe more deeply, utilising our diaphragm and pulling more air into our lungs.

    There are many different breathing techniques which will help us to do this but like any new skill, it’s best to start with the basics and work from there. To breathe properly, and in a way which will have a positive impact on your wellbeing, you might like to try this simple breathing and relaxation practice:

    • First, lie down on a blanket or rug, your legs straight and slightly apart, your arms relaxed at your sides, palms facing the air. Alternatively, you can sit up straight with your back upright and spine lengthened.
    • Once you’re comfortable, make a conscious effort to breathe through your nose, with your mouth closed. This will allow the tiny hairs and the mucus membranes in your nose to do their job and filter out dust and toxins, something which won’t happen if we breathe through our mouths.
    • Inhale deeply (aim to breathe in for 3-4 seconds), making sure that your abdomen rises along with the chest, as though your stomach is a balloon filling with air.
    • Retain the breath, even if for only a second. If properly performed, even brief retention of breath provides profound therapeutic benefits to every organ, gland, and functional system in the body. In actual breathing exercises, holding your breath for 3-4 seconds will help slow down your heartbeat, reduce blood pressure, and trigger cellular respiration.
    • After holding your breath, exhale slowly for 7 to 8 seconds, ensuring you release as much air as possible (if this proves too difficult initially, don’t worry – do what you can and build up to it!). Repeat for up to 10 minutes (aim for 5 minutes, minimum, as a starting point), remaining completely relaxed throughout, engaged in the simple process of breathing properly.

    After a while, this kind of breathing will not only seem natural to you but will bring with it a noticeable increase in your sense of vitality and wellbeing. You’ll become more conscious of how you should be breathing, you’ll more readily correct your posture when you begin to slouch in front of your computer or on your sofa, and you’ll be better equipped to handle stressful situations.

    Given time, you might also choose to discover more advanced breathing techniques, or even take up yoga, which places a great deal of focus on proper breathing and the benefits it can provide. Yoga is, in fact, integrally linked with the yogic science of Pranayama. Prānāyām is a Sanskrit word meaning “extension of the prāṇ or breath” or, “extension of the life force”.

    We might be out of line, but extending our life force sounds like something we might all want to try!

    Breathing. It’s something we do a lot. It makes sense that we should do it well.

    This blog post was written for educational purposes only. It is not designed to diagnose, treat or cure. For individual health concerns, The Organic Skin Co. recommends that you consult with a relevant health professional.