We are all aware that food, exercise and sleep contribute to good health. We hear about the latest diet or exercise fad. What we do not spend enough time on is breathing well. You can last for weeks without food and many days without water. You can go only a few minutes without breathing. Breathing controls everything: mindset, hormones, stress and decision-making only to name only a few. Breathing is one thing, but breathing well is another.
Most people have heard about the fight or flight and rest/digest responses. This is simply the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems working to keep you alive. Your sympathetic system should be reserved for potentially life-ending situations like a bar-room brawl or a knife attack. Your body doesn't think, it just acts. Cortisol pours into the bloodstream and action takes place. Unfortunately your body cannot distinguish between a real life threatening incident and some daily modern practices including driving on the road, meeting work deadlines, artificial light at night and excessive technology use. Sympathetic nodes are situated in the top of the lungs and are stimulated by short, shallow breathing. In the long-run this can lead to poor oxygen-carbon dioxide exchanges, asthma and even heart problems. Unfortunately, today, many of us breathe this way all the time. This is leading to a wrong cocktail of hormones in the blood, stressed out minds and depressed bodies. It's important to minimize stimulants that continuously initiate the sympathetic system. Bin your car, shoot your boss (not really), live by candlelight and break your mobile.
Parasympathetic breathing, also known as rest and digest, occurs during deep breathing from the diaphragm. In this state, the body is calm and the mind is sharp. Think of the guy playing chess or the lion resting under a tree. Belly breathing creates an efficient exchange of gases in the lungs, the production of nitric oxide which kills bacteria and also a slow steady heart rate. To maintain a state of parasympathetic breathing, simply place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. You should not feel your chest rising, only your belly. Also, try breathing through your nose, not your mouth. Nasal breathing cleanses air, adds moisture and promotes deep breathes. Also, check that both your nostrils are working efficiently. Your left nostril supplies your right brain with oxygen and the right nostril feeds the left side. If either of these nostrils are blocked, try a salt water rinse to clean it out.
Due to the nature of the modern world, it's important to allocate conscious calm time each day to shift the stress. Some people meditate but I am happy to just stroll through a park or on the beach. All I do is focus on breathing for 10 minutes. Believe it or not, it's quite challenging. The great thing about this conscious calm time is that it puts everything into perspective. As long as you can breathe, you are alive. Nothing else matters. Relearn the art of breathing well like you did as a baby. It will literally add quality years to your life...