How to Unlock the Power of Breath

Published On - 3 May, 2021By Alina Butunoi

Like many things in life, we often don’t think about our breathing. It’s just something that our body manages without any real conscious thought or effort. In fact, the only time we ever really seem to pay attention to our breath is when it’s gone. Whether we’re gasping for air after a hard workout or in a more serious situation, passing out from a lack of oxygen.

Yet taking the time to pay attention to our breathing – even when it’s not an issue – can be an incredibly valuable way to improve our overall health, mental state, brain functionality and wellbeing.

Why You Should Practice Your Breathing

According to the latest medical and health literature, there are three key benefits to enhancing your respiratory efficiency:

  • It’s Good For Your Brain: Everyone knows that oxygen is a key ingredient to life. Yet many people are unaware of the unique connection between our brains and our breath. In fact, despite its small size, the average human brain utilizes about 25% of all available oxygen. That means that if you have difficulty breathing, you’re literally causing alterations in the way your brain functions. Without oxygen your brain quickly sends a signal saying: “You know what, I don’t care what you’re doing. You’re in danger. Shut it down. Now.”

    You may be surprised, however, to learn that the opposite is also true: The better your breathing, the more oxygen reaches your brain and the better your cognitive functions, motor skills and even response times.

  • It Strengthens Your Diaphragm: The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of the lungs. When you breathe, your abdominal muscles help move the diaphragm and give you more power to empty your lungs. It’s not unlike a huge parachute that blows out and collapses big in on itself with each breath.

    Like any muscle, however, your diaphragm can actually be strengthened through deep breathing exercises (sometimes commonly known as “diaphragmatic breathing” or “abdominal breathing”).

  • It Can Help with Pelvic Injuries: The pelvis is a large basin-shaped structure in your body that supports the spine and protects the abdominal organs. Many people are prone to injury in this area, whether it’s from an accident, surgery or general wear and tear over time.

    New research has shown, however, that the pelvis is closely linked to our respiratory systems in a variety of ways. That means that one of the best ways to strengthen and even heal the pelvis is through practiced abdominal breathing.

  • It Can Help With Weight Loss: Studies have found that exhalation of breath can be a key (and often overlooked) component in weight loss. That’s because the metabolic processes that burns fat in your body is driven by oxygen. When fat is burned, its largely exhaled. So there’s supporting evidence to suggest that being more mindful of your breath can actually help improve the metabolic process and enhance weight loss.

  • It Can Help Relieve Stress: Believe it or not, one easy and effective way to reduce stress is simply through deep breathing. Studies have shown that even a few minutes of mindful, abdominal breathing can help release a variety of hormones designed to combat stress.

    This again is because of the close link between your brain and your breath. When high levels of oxygen are delivered to the brain, your brain believes that everything is safe, and purposefully relaxes and lowers its guard. It’s literally triggering your brain from fight or flight to rest and digest.

Three Simple Ways to Improve Your Breathing

If you’re looking to improve your breath, the first key step is to actively practice, and approach it in a much more mindful and deliberate way than you normally would.

  • Play With Your Breath: In the beginning, simply start by playing with your breath. Try breathing in and out at different intervals: either short, rapid exhalations, or longer, deeper abdominal breaths. Experimenting with different breath patterns actually makes your brain much more aware and responsive to changes in oxygen levels.

  • Try Deep Breathing Exercises: There are a number of easy-to-do deep breathing exercises you can do almost anywhere. First, try abdominal breathing. While sitting, simply breath in through your nose, fill your lungs with as much air as possible and exhale through your mouth. Repeat this for a few moments, being mindful of the sensations in your body and how you’re responding to each breath.

  • Practice for 8-10 Minutes Per Day: Improving your breath is just like anything else. It requires time and effort. But even just a few minutes a day can be hugely beneficial. When you start to incorporate specific mindful breathing practices, you’ll quickly start to see the impact on your body, mind and overall health.

Breathing Habits to Observe

When we talk about breathing habits and behavior we need to be reminded that breathing is mostly done unconsciously, with the average person inhaling and exhaling at least 25,000 times a day – all without ever really having to even think about it.

This means that the way to start improving how you breathe means bringing more attention and awareness to it. Start by taking the time to really focus on your breathing and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you breathe through nose or your mouth?
  • When do you inhale? When do you exhale?
  • What does it feel like to be “out of breath”?
  • How does your breathing feel when you wake up?
  • How does your breathing change through the day?
  • Are you ever congested or do your sinuses get plugged?
  • Do you tend to sigh a lot during the day?
  • Do your lungs ever feel like they’re “burning” when exercising?

Thinking about these questions can make us more aware of breathing, which is a key first step in strengthening in. It can also help provide much needed clues to your doctor or health expert of larger underlying issue. Start by paying attention to how you breathe and check in during the day to see what’s changed. The more time you spend focusing on your breathing, the more benefits you’re likely to see.

If you have any questions about how to improve your breathing, I’d love to hear from you. Book your appointment today.

About Author

Alina Butunoi

Alina Butunoi is one of Ottawa's most respected brain training and pain management practitioners. A previous nominee for the Ottawa 40 Under 40 business leaders, she is also a certified Movement Neurology Specialist with Z-Health, a cutting-edge neuro-exercise system that helps improve health, alleviate pain and maximize athletic performance.

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