Most adults breathe shallowly, meaning they breathe into their chest rather than into their belly. If you watch a baby breathe, their abdomen rises and falls with each breath. This is the way we are designed to breathe. Learning to breathe deeply into the belly has many health benefits.
Calms Nervous System
Deep breathing calms the nervous system.
You have a sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and a parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). When you’re in fight or flight, your breath automatically becomes shallow and faster to ready your body to run or fight. When you breathe shallowly, your body thinks it’s in a stress response.
In reality, you likely have moments during the day that trigger a fight or flight response, like running late to an appointment, having deadlines to meet at work, financial stressors, or road rage.
When your body is in a stressed out state, cortisol increases, which also causes a rise in inflammation. Our bodies are made for a little stress. However, prolonged or chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation. Over time, this can have a negative consequence on your health.
The good news is that you can help your body calm down. By conscientiously slowing and deepening your breath into your diaphragm, it switches the signal between your brain and body to the parasympathetic nervous system.
As a result, you may notice more mindfulness, less anxiety, and/or more calm.
When your body is stressed, blood flow moves away from organs to the muscles to activate them to run or fight. When you’re in a “rest and digest” state, your blood flow normalizes back to the organs. Have you ever noticed that after eating a big meal, you need to rest? This is why! Your body needs a chance to turn attention to the digestive process.
Deep breathing also activates the diaphragm. This is the primary breathing muscle in your body and runs horizontally across the bottom of your ribcage. When it engages, it activates a little massaging action for the internal organs, including the intestines and stomach.
This can make it a beneficial practice for those with GI concerns.
Increases Oxygenation of Blood
Your blood delivers oxygen to all of your cells. Your blood oxygen level indicates how well your lungs, heart, and circulation system works.
When you breath, not only are you engaging your diaphragm and intercostal muscles, but your breath goes into your lungs. With a deep breath, oxygen can reach the alveoli, little balloon shaped air sacs in your lungs. This is where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place.
Lowers Blood Pressure
Did you know that six deep breaths over a 30 second period can greatly reduce blood pressure?
High blood pressure is tied to that stress response in your body. When your body feels that it needs oxygen, it will respond accordingly. Your brain sends a signal to the blood vessels to get more oxygen to your heart and brain. Your blood flow increases, putting pressure on the walls of your blood vessels, increasing blood pressure.
Deep breathing, therefore, has the opposite effect.
When in pain, a person often tenses their muscles in response, perpetuating the pain cycle for those with chronic pain.
Diaphragmatic breathing has been shown in several studies to have an influence on relaxing muscles.
When focused on deep breathing, it serves as a distraction, taking your mind off of pain and focusing on the experience of breathing.
Improved Cellular Repair
Oxygen that is delivered to your cells through your bloodstream helps to replace cells that have worn out. It also helps to increase your energy and improves your immune system.
Nothing compares to waking up feeling rested.
By calming your nervous system, your body gets the signal that it’s time to settle down, making it easier to fall asleep.
A great exercise to help you turn off those thoughts that may be churning in your mind and help your body transition to sleep is to breathe in for 4 counts and exhale for 8 counts. That longer exhalation turns on the parasympathetic nervous system to help you settle down.
There are many benefits to the simple exercise of deep breathing. It’s a tool that you can use in many places, like sitting at a stop light, standing in line at the grocery store, in a work meeting, or just sitting.
If you’d like to learn more, check out the Breathwork for Stress Relief Course in Wellness Clusters.