What if I told you that you can calm your nerves, connect with your body, ease pain, improve focus and posture, and cleanse your insides with one simple trick? No medication, no supplements; a superpower hidden inside all of us. Wondering what I could possibly be talking about? Here’s a hint: you’re doing it right now.
The Incredible Inhale
Inhale deeply. Exhale fully. When performed mindfully and intentionally, breathing can become exercise. And, as with any other form of exercise, it comes with some awesome physical and mental benefits. In the first of a four-part article series on breathing, mobility, breathing and mind-body coach in professional sports Dana Santas writes:
“the act of breathing … is actually a voluntary movement that you can control at will … [and] the quality of your breathing can impact virtually all other systems of the body, which means YOU have the power to actively use your breathing to positively affect your health and wellness on many levels.”
In yoga, regulating the breath, or “pranayama,” is one of the foundational tools to teaching students how to connect their minds and bodies. “The first part of the term, ‘prana,’ translates to life force in English; ‘yama’ translates to control,” says Santas. “So the breathing practices of pranayama are designed for control of your life force … Control your breathing. Control your life.”
For some specific benefits, this article outlines twelve health benefits of breathing exercise: it improves immunity, sleep quality and concentration; eases anxiety; promotes cardiovascular health; decreases the toxicity of the body; improves digestion; reduces inflammation; strengthens the lungs; and even gives you glowing skin.
Breathing is also directly related to one’s posture, according to Santas’ second article stressing the breath’s role in relieving pain and improving posture. Here’s the anatomic explanation:
“[The] diaphragm, your primary breathing muscle, attaches to both your rib cage and your spine, giving it a secondary function as a postural stabilizer … Your ribs also attach to your spine, and your spine to your head, further connecting all of these postural elements to your breathing. Therefore, as your breathing pattern impacts your rib cage position, your spine and head move in response. And because your shoulder blades are designed to glide over your rib cage, your shoulder position and function are also impacted.”
So, breathing is more than something we do to survive, and more than a tool to use when meditating. Now, let’s stop slouching and get to practicing.
The Mighty Exhale
There are many different breathing exercises that one can perform, but you can start by simply breathing mindfully.
According to Santas, the first thing you should be aware of when you begin breathing mindfully is notice “the triangular split in your rib cage below your sternum, or breastbone” which is called your infrasternal angle.
“When you inhale, that angle should widen as your lower ribs expand out, enabling your diaphragm to flatten and descend,” Santas says. “When you exhale, your ribs should move in toward each other, narrowing the angle as your diaphragm relaxes and domes inside your rib cage.” I recommend that you try this a few times, and visit the article page for a video where Santas demonstrates this particular method.
The article also noted the importance of breathing though your nose, because it helps prevent forward-head posture and inhaling through the nose expresses nitric oxide, which increases oxygenation.
A breathing practice that has been gaining traction — especially to relieve stress and anxiety during the pandemic — is the Wim Hof method, which is designed to reconnect us to ourselves, to others and to nature. The primary focus of this breathing method is inhaling deeply and exhaling without any use of force, taking about 30-40 breaths in “short, powerful bursts.”
When experiencing anxiety after receiving my COVID-19 vaccine, my editor, Doug Sparks, recommended the Wim Hof method. I felt that it not only helped distract me from my worries, but left me feeling refreshed, especially since I received the shot early in the day and needed the energy boost and balanced mindset. It takes some practice, but it doesn’t take long to try it. Click here for step-by-step instructions.
For more breathing techniques to practice, Healthline offers ten breathing techniques to relieve stress. Included is pursed lip breathing, diaphragmatic breathing to help you use your diaphragm properly, lion’s breath to relieve tension in the chest and face, alternate nostril breathing, Sitali breathing to lower your body temperature and relax your mind, and “humming bee breath.” Take a break from your busy day, tune in to your body and try out one of these techniques. Jusssst breathe.
GOOD READS & WATCHES
Starry Nights. There is a new traveling trend spreading across the U.S.: Dark Sky Tourism. Instead of daytime hikes and sunny beach days, many travelers are “seeking nighttime illumination at remote dark sky locations in Idaho, Nebraska, and Arkansas.” Visit here to learn more.
More on Mars. Scientists have been collecting more and more exciting information about Mars, using seismic data to look inside the red planet. Click here to learn about what mars is made of.
Cuteness Overload. In this adorable video from The Dodo, Rave, a poodle, recognized her former trainer at the park after not seeing him for ten months. Her reaction as she almost walks by him will melt your heart.