When was the last time you thought about your breathing?
Like most people you have probably never given it a second thought. Controlled by the Autonomic Nervous System it happens automatically so why should you? The sad fact is that most of us do not appreciate breathing until we cannot do it properly.
Not being able to breathe properly can happen for a variety of reasons. A few examples are illness, being held under in the surf or running to catch a train, just to name a few. If you have ever experienced a sudden and unexpected lack of oxygen you will know it can create anxiety, stress and ultimately panic. As a result, our body releases stress hormones in a typical “fight or flight” response.
It’s also a fact that many of you, on a daily basis, breathe in such a way that your body is not getting enough oxygen and is therefore in a state of stress. As a result, your adrenal glands release those “fight or flight” hormones on a regular basis which can result in chronic stress.
Many studies have shown that some of the health problems caused or exacerbated by chronic stress include, but are not limited to: depression and anxiety; sleep problems; autoimmune diseases; digestive problems; heart disease; and weight problems.
Of course, if you suffer from any of the conditions mentioned above then you should seek medical advice but, in the meantime, there is one simple thing you can do right now and that is breathe and breathe deeply.
If you are not sure where to start, try this simple exercise for at least 5 -10 minutes, several times a day. This exercise can also be used in bed to prepare yourself for sleep.
* Sit comfortably in a chair with your eyes closed and hands on your thighs.
* Inhale through your nose and count to four at a steady pace.
* Hold your breath for a count of one, and then exhale, through your nose, also for a count of four.
* After a couple of rounds imagine you are breathing through your belly button which helps engage the diaphragm. Don’t be surprised if your inhalation and exhalation count gets a little longer.
* If other thoughts pop into your head that is completely normal. Acknowledge those thoughts and get back to your counting.
If you like the above exercise you might consider meditation which is a wonderful activity that helps connect the body and the mind via the breath. I meditate on a regular basis and also include it occasionally with my clients in the gym which they thoroughly enjoy.
As much as I enjoy my meditation there is something else I love, even more. It involves serious breathing and is fantastic for my cardiovascular system and that thing is exercise. Whether it be in the gym, on the tennis court, in the surf or a walk it doesn’t matter. As long as I am getting out of my comfort zone and a little out of breath, I know it is doing me good. Breathing also means that I am alive.
So, let me ask you again: When was the last time you thought about your breathing?
- This is a regular column written by health expert Stephen Smith from Merewether Fitness Studio