Surely one of the most natural things that we do it breathe. Unlike dolphins, who I understand from nature programmes consciously control their breathing, we have an autonomic system which regulates our breath. We don’t have to think about each breath in and out to stay alive.
Breathing correctly has amazing benefits to our body, everything from controlling anxiety symptoms, to improving concentration, wanting to eat healthy to the desire to exercise and naturally maintain a good posture. It also gives that sense of being centred and being in control which I know I loose all too easily as I get swept away in the busy life I lead, with the expectations I place on myself.
However it is suggested that up to 90% of us in the western world breath in a way which is not so helpful for us. We breathe only with the top part of our lungs therefore taking in too much oxygen and not getting rid of the carbon dioxide efficiently.
Check out how you are breathing but placing one hand on your chest and one on your stomach at about waist height. Which is the hand which is moving?
If you are engaged with what you are reading I hope you will feel both hands moving. But like most of us it is possible you only feel your top hand moving. This is simply an exercise to help you become aware where you are breathing from and gives you the option to change you breathing patterns as you are aware of them if you choose to.
Interestingly the body doesn’t register the amount of oxygen we have in our lungs but does register the carbon dioxide(CO2). So when there is too much CO2 in our lungs out body tries to compensate by getting in more oxygen. This leads to hyperventilation, where the body has too much oxygen. This leads to symptoms which people often associate with anxiety, stress or panic.
So we need to reduce the amount of oxygen we have in our system and the is done by expelling some of the CO2. Our aim should not be to eliminate CO2 completely either as this is bad for us. My understanding is that in and of itself CO2 is not toxic, but we do require the correct balance of gasses in our lungs.
The myth that CO2 is bad for us stems from when they first started testing CO2 and finding out about the composition of air, there was a suggestion that it was toxic. A few lab mice lost their lives to sealed containers of carbon dioxide, thus in the scientists minds demonstrating that it was toxic, rather than considering the idea of a balance gas composition.
Breathing and meditation techniques can help bring the body back into balance for a period of time. This is why these seemly simple techniques can work so efficiently and effectively even in a space of 30-40 seconds to stabilise mood and reduce uncomfortable feelings. This is because it has been suggested that in our stressed western world, many of us live in a slightly over oxygenated world at the best of times and these techniques balance us effectively.
Our aim, however, needs to be more long term, rather than the quick fix of dealing with symptoms of hyperventilation when we see them. The challenge is to get our breathing rate when we are engaged in a sedentary activity such as reading or sleeping, to be between 8-12 breaths a minute. The main problem is that as soon as we try to monitor our own breathing, it naturally gets deeper. So we need someone else to monitor this for us when we are not expecting it.
So the question is how to we maintain this. Clearly we can control it when we are aware, but there is something about bringing a naturally healthy pace at all times.
The simple answer is to only breath through your nose. Exercising, staying hydrated, not being calcium deficient and consuming less stimulants (e.g. sugar and nicotine) will make a big difference too.
Try it. Consciously keep your mouth closed and breathe through your nose.
For me it brought a sense of awareness not only of my breath but of my movement as well. I somehow became more aware of my foot fall rate, the speed at which I was talking. There somehow came a need not to race. Strange I know. I am however aware for me that consciously breathing through my nose at all times is part of a journey to peace.