Breathe Like Your Life Depends on It
By: Bill Reddy, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac.
You may not be thinking about it, but you’re doing it right now while reading this. Breathing consciously can reduce your stress response (cortisol), boost your metabolism, lower blood pressure, increase lymphatic movement leading to a stronger immune system, and improve your skin texture and quality of your life.
Every healing tradition in the world (Ayurvada, Chinese medicine, Yoga, etc.) uses some form of breath control as a central tenet for achieving optimal health. The well-known journalist Bill Moyer wrote a book, “Healing and the Mind,” noting that the one thing all spontaneous healing had in common across the planet was the person’s ability to control their breath, and quiet their minds.
Every cell in your body requires oxygen, but when you’re stressed, your respiration becomes shallow and less oxygen is delivered to your brain and body causing fatigue, irritability and a weakened immune system.
Did you know that 70% of the natural waste from your cells is removed from breathing? That suggests that when you breathe shallowly, you end up stewing in toxic chemicals. Deep breathing massages your internal organs, increasing blood flow and promoting efficient operation, giving you more energy and a feeling of well-being.
Volumes of studies have proven the importance of breathing to alleviate stress. When you breathe deep, tight muscles relax releasing the tension and generating feel-good endorphins in your brain. “Smooth” muscles (those that surround your blood vessels) are also relaxed in the process of deep breathing that will effectively reduce blood pressure.
Heart disease is one of the top three killers in America. Would you believe that deep breathing helps protect your heart? When you breathe deeply, you get more oxygen in your blood to be transported to your cells, and your heart doesn’t have to work as hard.
Breathing deeply is also excellent at combating pain. If you have anything that hurts, try breathing deeply for 3 minutes and “check in” with that body part and you should feel some relief. If you are recovering from an injury, then breathing is an excellent way to move the lymphatic fluid around your body to scavenge the damaged cells and accelerate repair. As a matter of fact, deep breathing also improves cellular regeneration, lessening pain and discomfort.
Is there a “proper way” to breathe deeply?
Absolutely. Begin by sitting up tall, with your feet on the floor and drop your shoulders, allowing them to roll forward slightly. Take a few initial breaths, and let go of any tension in your body during the exhale. Inhale through your nose, feeling the lower part of your belly extend, as if you are filling your lungs from the bottom up, counting to five. Hold your breath for a count of three, imagining pure healing oxygen flowing into your bloodstream. When you exhale through your partially open mouth, feel your lower belly pushing directly back toward your spine, and visualize toxins and negative energy being released from your body while counting to five.
How frequently should I practice this breathing method?
Put aside a minimum of two 10-minute periods during your day, preferably on in the morning and one in the early afternoon. Remember that your health is your priority and that’s the first step toward mastering stress and your response to it.
Bill Reddy is a nationally board-certified Licensed acupuncturist who studied under graduates and professors from Beijing and Shanghai medical schools. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Integrated Healthcare Policy Consortium. He is the former President of the Acupuncture Society of Virginia and professor at the Virginia University of Oriental Medicine. He is the author of over 60 publications, lecturer, an avid practitioner of Qi Gong and Tai Chi, and practices at the Pinecrest Wellness Center in Annandale, Virginia.