by Jason Rinker, L.Ac.
How many people pay attention to the way they breathe? Most people do not breathe fully or deeply. We have become a nation of shallow breathers. Modern-day lifestyle has created a body in which we do not challenge our pulmonary and respiratory systems. We have become so distracted that we don't even think about breathing. Also, due to our sedentary existence, the body's muscles that support proper breathing have become weak and the structures that surround the heart in the lungs may collapse, creating a more laborious and hindered breathing cycle.
This is a serious problem because breathing is the most important physiological process that the human body must undergo in order to survive and thrive. It provides us with the oxygen that is needed to fuel most metabolic processes in the body.
To solve this problem, we must learn to breathe efficiently through mindfulness practice. This involves breathing deep down into the belly to pull the air into the lower lobes of the lung. As the lobes of the lung expand, air begins to press against the spleen, pancreas, and liver, providing a gentle rinsing of the organs and raising the efficiency of the digestive system.
Benefits of Mindfulness Practice
The brain requires large amounts of oxygen to maintain all biological processes, so under high stress, the breath becomes shallow. We can control the effect of stress by using the mind to regulate and make ourselves aware of breathing. So, adopting a daily mindfulness breathing practice can offer tremendous holistic benefits to our mind and body.
Focusing our attention on breathing allows us to develop a deeper relationship with our body. Over time, with daily practice, the mind becomes calmer and the actual structure of the brain changes. Research has shown that people who have developed a mindfulness practice experience more balanced brain activity compared to people who have not.
Since breathing is the backbone of all physiological processes, it will guide us in the full optimization of our physical bodies. When breathing is slow, deep, and steady, the mind will experience calm. This peaceful state starts to lower our stress by acting upon our bodies' fight or flight mechanism. This response is normally over-stimulated with high levels of the hormone cortisol. This hormone is highly catabolic to the neurological and muscular systems. When we constantly drive our body into a prolonged high cortisol state, our blood becomes more acidic, our digestion becomes weak, and our mind becomes dull.
An additional benefit of having a daily mindfulness practice is that it doesn't require fancy equipment or costly gym memberships. It can be done anywhere, anytime. Even five minutes a day can make a huge impact on one's health and wellness.
The benefits of deep diaphragmatic breathing reverse the effects of stress on the body and can also awaken our minds and revitalize our physical bodies.
How to Practice Deep Breathing
First, you should find a quiet space to sit with a timer. Any comfortable sitting position may be taken. The only requirement is that you maintain an upright position. Second, set a timer for a specific duration. For this exercise, you can start with a length of just five minutes daily gradually working up to 30 to 45 minutes per day.
All that is required is to sit and watch the breath come in and out of the nose and experience the rise and fall of the belly, allowing thoughts to come and go. When thoughts enter our consciousness and become distracting, we just need to direct our attention back to the rhythmic rise and fall of the breath. This very subtle yet profound understanding will give us space for our thoughts. The breath will act as a wedge that will enable new possibilities to arise from the clutter of our constant dialogue about ourselves.
Deep breathing mindfulness practice can be a challenging undertaking. It does require work and at times can be quite demanding. But, adopting a compassionate and forgiving attitude towards this training will allow us to keep returning to developing a daily practice, changing our lives for the better.
Simple Breathing Techniques
by Jason Rinker, L.Ac.