Just Breathe…

Breathing is an essential function for life; if you stop breathing for long enough, you stop living. Yet, not only is breathing important, but your method or manner of breathing is crucial too. In many country’s health practices, breath training is an integral element; such as in Ayurveda, Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, and most martial arts. However, in the United States, we don’t really think or talk much about it. Certainly no one teaches us “how” to breathe (unless they are trained in and/or teaching one of these practices). When patients come to see me, especially with lower back pain, I often train them in Diaphragmatic Breathing as a preparation to training their abdominal muscles (the main stabilizers of the upper body). So, why is breathing (or more specifically, how we breathe) so important?

As I have talked about in some of my past post (i.e. Adrenaline FatigueWired and Tired, and Stressed and Depressed) stress is a major problem for our health. According to an article on the Harvard Health website called “Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response” stress can contribute to many physical and mental health issues, including suppressed immune function, increased susceptibility to colds and other illnesses, high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression. The article recommends controlled breathing practices as a means to dealing with the negative effects of stress. They say the following about Deep Breathing:

“Deep breathing also goes by the names of diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing, and paced respiration. When you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs, and the lower belly rises.”

Deep BreathingAn article from TIME Magazine’s mindfulness blog, Motto, called “The Breathing Technique a Navy SEAL Uses to Stay Calm and Focused” discusses one breathing technique which the author, Mark Divine (a former Navy SEAL), refers to as “Box Breathing” due to it consisting of 4 periods, lasting 4 seconds each. The basic pattern is:

  • Expel all of the air from your lungs
  • Keep them empty for four seconds
  • Inhale through your nose for four seconds
  • Hold the air in for four seconds
  • Exhale for four seconds
  • Repeat for a few to several minutes

Mark Divine states in the article:

“It is something you can do anywhere—and any time, so long as you are not performing a highly complex task. I practice it in the morning, before a workout, while standing in line, while I’m stuck in traffic and whenever else I can. It helps me slow down my breathing rate and deepen my concentration. When I perform box breathing, even just for five minutes, I am left with a deeply calm body and an alert, focused state of mind.”

For full detail see the TIME article. Additionally, on his website unbeatablemind.com  Mark shares his 3 Breathing Exercises You Should Know which includes:

  1. Box Breathing – “…alleviate stress, sharpen the mind, and much more.”
  2. Corkscrew Breathing – “This type of breathing exercise helps regulate circulation, expand the lungs, and evokes energy. “
  3. Basic Breath Control – “This exercise helps you sleep, alleviate anxiety, and relaxes the body’s central nervous system.”

I encourage everyone to have some form of breathing and meditative practice which they use on a regular basis. I can attest to the positive effects these have had in my own life and that of my patients. Now breathe…


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