Our breath sustains us. Our breath is our life.
Do you ever feel like you need a timeout? To have a moment to yourself, to step away from reactionary mode, to breathe, to observe, and reassess? I know I certainly do. This healthy, sacred escape is vital to rewire and even regulate our chemistry. When you see a child upset and crying, you may say, “take a deep breath.” Or when you yourself are trapped in an emotional whirlwind, you may consciously take a full breath. This sweet pause to breathe affects our whole being. Breathing influences how you feel, and vice versa, how you feel influences your breathing.
On average, an individual at rest breathes 12-18 times per minute, that’s about 20,000 cycles in 24 hours. And with the demands of stress for the modern adult, it surges up to 16-18 for men and 18-20 for women. We breathe quicker and more shallow when we are in high-stress mode. Our bodies are an exquisite, magnificent brewery of fluctuating hormones, electrolytes, and chemicals, adjusting to our environment to do its best to live and thrive. Oxygen is one of those ingredients for sustaining life.
Which part of the body uses the most oxygen?
The brain. It uses 20-25% of the body’s oxygen supply, yet it’s only about 5% of a person’s total body weight. It’s around the size of a cantaloupe and is about three pounds. Meanwhile, the heart uses 7% and the kidneys use 12% of oxygen.
When the brain doesn’t have a sufficient supply of oxygen, it will pull from other muscles in the body. This could create tension, soreness, pain, weakness and abnormal movement patterns in those muscles, which could form a domino effect of dysfunction for your entire structure.
Optimal breathing is inhaling and exhaling through the nose, 10-14 breaths per minute. The mouth is mainly for eating, the nose is for breathing. With open-mouth breathing, the sympathetic nervous system kicks into fight or flight mode. Your breath pattern becomes shorter and quicker, which creates stress, anxiety, and even compromises your digestion and immune systems. Through the nose, on the other hand, a slower breathing pattern almost automatically is enforced because the air has time to circulate in the sinus cavity where it is warmed and filtered. It strengthens the diaphragm, which helps with posture and spine stabilization. It improves blood flow distribution, increases oxygenation of body tissues, and promotes faster recovery during as well as after a workout. A yoga study of 60 minutes of breathing and mental awareness training revealed up to a 27% increase in GABA (the neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for inducing relaxation and sleep) mirroring similar effects to Xanax.
What happens when you breathe conscious, mindful, thoughtful inhales and exhales?
-There are shifts.
-It is a mood adjuster.
It is a sleep enhancer.
-It is a calming source.
-It is also free.
Breathing is a form of movement that is enhanced with practice. Most of the time we don’t even think about it, but occasionally, being aware and focused on our inhales and exhales is a game changer. It is shown that we switch our breathing pattern to mouth breathing at age five. It will take time and patience to undo a habit ingrained in our being since childhood.
Here is a two-minute “time out,” right now or for when you need a break:
-Relax your shoulders away from your ears and sit with a lengthened spine
-Place your hands gently on your low belly
-Breathe in through your nose, breathe out through your nose
-Become aware of your breath rising and falling underneath your hands
-Observe where it is flowing physically in the body
-Inhale, breathe into your hands, connect and feel the diaphragm movement
-Exhale, feel your belly recede back toward your spine
-Notice your inhale/exhale pattern
-Slow it down, lengthen the depth of your breath
-Sync up the rhythm of your inhales and exhales, four counts breathing in, four counts breathing out
-In through the nose, out through the nose
-Take your time
-Repeat 10 full breath cycles or two minutes
The breath connects the mind with the body. Breathing speaks all languages. Breathing is life.