Written by: Dr. Christine Davis, Naturopathic Doctor
Deep breathing is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Studies have shown that deep breathing techniques are extremely effective in handling depression, anxiety, stress-related disorders, chronic pain, eating disorders and obesity.
Not sure if you’re deep breathing…
What kind of breather are you? Try this test: Place one hand on your chest and one hand on you abdomen. Take a normal breath while looking down. If the hand on your chest rises first, you tend to breathe in your chest. If the hand on your abdomen rises first, you are more of a belly breather. Shallow chest breathing causes a constriction of the chest and lung tissue over time, decreasing oxygen flow and delivery to your tissues.
Benefits of Deep Breathing
Relaxation: Your nervous system is made up of two sub-systems, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system, which is stimulated in times of stress and anxiety, controls your fight or flight response, including spikes in cortisol and adrenaline. Chronic stress depletes the body of nutrients and destabilizes brain chemistry and hormonal balance. Depression, muscle tension and pain, insulin sensitivity, GI issues, insomnia, and adrenal fatigue among scores of other conditions are all related to an overworked sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is the relaxation system. By turning on the parasympathetic system, you are turning off the sympathetic system. Deep breathing is the fastest way to trigger your parasympathetic nervous system.
Detoxification: By deep breathing you are expanding and contracting your diaphragm. This action actually massages your internal organs and stimulates your lymphatic system to rid itself of toxins. The consequences of a sluggish lymphatic system and therefore improper detoxification include weight gain, muscle loss, high blood pressure, fatigue, and inflammation.
Facilitates weight loss: Deep breathing delivers many of the benefits of exercise. It improves the efficiency of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems and helps to facilitate weight loss. Interestingly, when you are stressed, your body tends to burn glycogen, not fat, and through triggering the relaxation response, deep breathing encourages your body to burn fat instead. In addition, triggering the relaxation response will result in less stress, depression and anxiety which can trigger emotional eating.
Find a comfortable place to sit. Sit up straight with your hands resting on your knees and relax your shoulders. There are two important things to remember before you start deep breathing. One is that your breath begins with a full exhalation. You can’t inhale fully until you empty your lungs completely. Secondly, it is important to breathe in through your nose.
A simple count for deep breathing is seven-eleven. On your next exhalation, breathe out slowly through your nose, to a quick count of 11. Tense your abdominal muscles, drawing in your diaphragm to help your lungs deflate. At the bottom of your breath, pause slightly, and then inhale to the count of seven. Expand your belly as you breathe in. Now close your eyes and repeat 5–10 times.
Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass. Remember to work within your comfort zone. It will take a while for your body to adapt to deep breathing. Start with four breaths and slowly increase over time.
Once you develop this technique by practicing it every day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens – before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep. This exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it.