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The importance of breathing

The human body can survive 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, but only 3 minutes without air – unless you are one of those freaky free divers, which I’m assuming you are not.

Without air the brain starves of oxygen, normal bodily functions cease to exist and essentially we die. That makes breathing high on the priority list for human life. However, for most of us we don’t stress or worry about breathing, whether there will be enough air to breathe or even how we breathe, until we have a lung infection or an illness of the lungs which limits or compromises our ability to breathe.

In short, we take breathing for granted and often don’t pay it very much attention.

Breathing is something the body does automatically. But did you know that the way we breathe changes depending on our state of mind and how we feel? Have you noticed how your breathing pattern changes with your emotions or in certain situations? When we are stressed or fearful we tend to take fast and shallow breaths, whereas when we are relaxed and at ease we breathe gently and more steadily.

If we hold our breath or change the rate at which we breathe in and out, we can actually change how we feel. The way we breathe can be actively controlled by simply focussing on the breath and how we are breathing. For example, when we breathe gently we send a signal to the body that says I am relaxed and that all is safe and well. In response the body produces less stress hormones and increases feel-good hormones (endorphins).

The benefits of breathing

The first and most important benefit of breathing is that breath is life – without it we wouldn’t be alive. We cannot live without the breath as it brings us oxygen.

But did you ever consider that the way that we breathe could have an effect on the body, more so than just giving the body oxygen?

That’s right – how we breathe and the way in which we breathe affects our body and how we feel, and it even alters our heart rate, blood pressure, stress levels and our health.

Interestingly, this has been affirmed in studies that have shown that the way we breathe affects our nervous system, hormone production, fight-flight response, stress levels, heartbeat and rate, blood pressure and digestion.

We breathe on average 1700 to 2100 times a day. That is a lot of in and out; air passing through our nose and lungs and into our circulation and a lot of breathing muscles and chest walls expanding and contracting, rising and falling.

When we have difficulty breathing properly we can develop conditions like shortness of breath, mouth breathing or sleep-disordered breathing like sleep apnoea where we actually choke for breath in our sleep. Stress caused by anxiety can also make it hard for us to breathe properly.

Breathing through the nose filters the air and cleans it so it is ready for use once it enters our lungs. When we mouth breathe the unfiltered air can actually harm our body, leading to inflammation which increases our risk for chronic health conditions like heart disease.

If we are choking for air during sleep this also stops us from sleeping deeply and leads to tiredness, fatigue and exhaustion and again increases our risk of poor health.

With breathing being so crucial to life and the way in which we breathe having such an impact on our health and wellbeing, would it not be sensible to become more aware of how we breathe so as to be able to choose to breathe in a way that supports us to be more healthy and feel more in control of ourselves?

Choosing how to breathe

  • Can we choose to breathe in a way that allows us to feel more at ease, less stressed and in control of life?
  • Can we use our breath to feel more connected, be less reactive to situations, have less stress and improve our health? Yes we can, it is as easy as breathing... well, as easy as choosing how to breathe.

  • As easy as breathing gently in and out through your nose.

  • As easy as watching and observing your breath as often as you can during the day.

  • As easy as taking time to stop and bring yourself back to breathing a gentle breath.

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Becoming a master of yourself

The Gentle Breath Meditation is a great tool to develop a true marker of the quality and awareness of your being.

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HealthStressHealthy livingGentle BreathBreathRelaxation

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    By Dr Rachel Hall, Dentist

    Dentist, business owner, writer, author and presenter. Family woman, guitarist, photographer, passionate about health, wellbeing and community. Lover of Vietnamese food, fast cars, social media, café culture and people.

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    Photography: Rebecca Wingrave, Photographer

    I am a sensitive and tender woman, who cares deeply about people and enjoys spending time supporting children and elderly people in my local community. I have a gorgeous young son and a beautiful partner; I love cooking, the beauty of nature and I'm enjoying more and more working as a freelance photographer.