11 Dec The Four Benefits of Conscious Breathing
On average, you will take around 16 breaths per minute. This means you will take 23,040 breaths just today and 8,409,600 breaths this year. Out of all those breaths, how many can you remember taking consciously? Although breathing is an important part of your autonomic nervous system, your body’s control system that acts largely unconsciously, becoming more conscious of HOW you are breathing has been shown to make significant changes towards improving health, mood, digestion, and more! Below we review the four biggest reasons why conscious breathing is essential to start implementing into your daily routine. We also provide tips on the most effective ways to breathe properly as well as suggestions on how to implement this new habit into your daily routine.
Consciously changing the way you breathe sends a signal to the brain to adjust the parasympathetic (rest and digest) branch of the nervous system; therefore every conscious exhalation you take slows the heart rate and promotes feelings of calm. Inversely, unconscious breathing can lead to shallow breaths and the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the release of stress hormones like cortisol. By intentionally focusing on elongating the exhale of your breaths throughout the day, you can control the release of cortisol. Proper breathing is the most powerful and cheapest way to lower cortisol and conquer stress.
As mentioned above, conscious breathing with an elongated exhale is known most for its ability to tap into the parasympathetic pathway of the autonomic nervous system. When your body is in a sympathetic (fight or flight) state from work-stress, home-stress, a recent argument, road rage, or various other distractions, your blood leaves the gut and rushes to the body’s extremities, thus decreasing the efficiency of the digestive process. This is because your body responds to stress in the same way now as it did millions of years ago. While running from a bear (an extreme example), the last thing your body cares about is digesting the meal you just consumed – it just wants to keep you alive by ensuring you don’t get attacked.
Because a relaxed body supports proper organ function, it is no coincidence that “rest and digest” is most famously used to describe the parasympathetic nervous system. You need healthy organ function to support your body’s unmanaged and systematic activities including digestion, elimination, and absorption. Among other things, an ineffective digestive process can lead to feeling bloated, gassy, constipated, and/or cause diarrhea. This is the exact reason why Central Athlete includes conscious breathing both before and after each meal, as well as eating without distractions, as part of our food hygiene protocol for our clients to ensure optimal digestion and nutrient assimilation.
Lower Blood Pressure
We all know that stress raises blood pressure. If you would like to lower your blood pressure, conscious breathing can be used as a strategic form of stress reduction that will often improve hypertension (another name for high blood pressure.) Due to stress revving up the sympathetic pathway of the nervous system, as detailed above, conscious breathing allows your body to tap into the more restful pathway of the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for lowering heart rate and reducing the secretion of stress hormones. Conscious breathing done on a regular basis is the oldest and best-known technique to reduce stress and therefore improve blood pressure.
Did you know that conscious breathing can even help eliminate the poor nutritional and lifestyle choices that may be hindering your results? We have found that when clients implement a daily breathing ritual into their routine, they feel more in control over the decisions they are making at home, while out with friends, and even at the grocery store. Daily breathing or meditation allows an individual to become present with their actions, which ultimately affects the decisions they make throughout the day.
Give it a try; next time you’re hungry and rushing through Whole Foods to the bakery to grab something to eat, stop, and take a couple of breaths. Is a donut really the decision you want to make? Does that align with your goals? When you can stop and take a second to think through your decision, you’ll most likely find that you make a better one. While It is one thing to know WHY conscious breathing is necessary for improved health and mood, it is another thing to understand HOW to implement proper breathing mechanics. Below are a few techniques you can use to ensure the time and energy you spend consciously breathing is giving you the most benefit.
Proper Breathing Mechanics
- Belly Breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, focuses on expanding your belly versus your chest while inhaling through the nose. Breathing through your shoulders and chest is an obvious sign you are shallow breathing, which will ultimately inhibit your ability to tap into the parasympathetic nervous system.
- 4-6-8 breathing is a great technique to ensure your exhales are longer than your inhales, which is essential for tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system. Begin by inhaling through the nose quietly for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 6, and then exhale through your mouth while making a whooshing sound for a count of 8. Repeat this cycle for 5 breaths several times throughout the day and whenever you’re feeling stressed.
- Inhaling through your nose is more beneficial than inhaling through your mouth, as nose breathing releases nitric oxide. The nitric oxide is then carried to your lungs and helps maintain homeostasis within the body.
No matter your gender, age, fitness goals, or routine, daily conscious breathing is essential for each and every person. Proper breathing not only improves your body’s ability to function properly and efficiently, but it can also improve performance, increase sleep quality, help anxiety and so much more. One hundred conscious breaths per day are recommended to many of our Central Athlete clients who are looking to optimize their health, wellness, and performance. Although it seems so simple, most people have difficulty implementing this in their daily routine.
Conscious breathing can be done while walking your dog, driving your car, before and after each meal, when you wake up in the morning, or right before bed. You can do them all in one sitting or partition them throughout the day; whatever you do, it’s time to start breathing … consciously!