Good to Know: The Importance of Diaphragmatic Breathing

I call these types of blog posts "Good To Know" because in my personal experience I have found that a mindful exercise is most useful when your mind actually knows why your body is doing what it's doing. I've practiced yoga for over 15 years now and many things that I was instructed to do over the years made little sense. This in return didn't bring about the desired results because I didn't do it properly. Only when I began to study all the aspects of yoga and the reasons behind it all, did I start to practice them properly. When you know why, your mind can focus on it effectively. And when your mind focusing on your bodily actions, the beneficial effects multiply significantly.

What is Diaphragmatic breathing?

Diaphragmatic breathing is nothing else but taking deep breaths that reach down into your belly. We are all born with the instinct to breath in this way. As we grow older we 'unlearn' this and develop the unhealthy habit of short chest breaths. The stresses of life affect our breathing habits, as well as things like the need to pull in the belly to suit a certain beauty ideal.

What is the Diaphragm?

The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle at the base of the lungs that plays an important role in breathing. When breathing in the muscle contracts and moves downwards, causing the belly to expand outwards and creating space in the lungs for plenty of oxygen to fill them up. When we exhale the opposite happens, and the diaphragm moves back upwards and the belly moves inwards. Fully engaging the diaphragm leads to refreshing and satisfying breaths as well as ensures the proper gas exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Why is Diaphragmatic Breathing Important?

Every organ, and every system relies on a sufficient supply of oxygen for them to function properly. When our breaths our short, we simply don't get enough.

Another very important aspect of our respiratory system, is the gas exchange that happens in the air sacs at the bottom of the lungs. Oxygen passes through them into the blood and is then pumped through your body. The air sacs also absorb the carbon dioxide from your blood, which is then removed from your body when you exhale. Breathing is therefore a detoxification of your bodily systems from carbon dioxide and other harmful gases.

What Happens if We Don't Breathe Properly?

When I speak about 'not breathing properly' I am referring to shallow breathing. This means that your breath doesn't go as deep as it does with diaphragmatic breathing, and only reaches your chest. This can happen with high levels of stress or simply because we become used to holding our breath and sucking in our belly to suit the cultural expectation of a flat belly beauty ideal. What happens is that our body is basically in a constant state of stress. That doesn't mean that you are aware of feeling stressed. It means that your muscles, organs, nervous system and everything else in your physical body is in permanent tension. This results in lower amounts of lymphocyte, a type of white blood cells that protects your body from harmful, invading organisms. In short, your immune system can be severely compromised and won't fight off diseases properly or prolong healing of any existing medical conditions.

Furthermore shallow breathing can cause panic attacks, irritate your respiratory system and even be a precursor to cardiovascular issues. It doesn't end here (although that's pretty bad already I'd say). Your entire body can be affected by such breathing patterns. Breathing into your chest causes your shoulder and neck muscles to tense up, in order to allow for our lungs to expand. This can lead to pain in these areas as well as chronic headaches. The list goes on, and you might find that any discomfort you might have, could be a result of a shallow breathing pattern.

The Benefits of Deep Breathing

Avoiding all the problems mentioned above are clearly already major benefits. Infusing your whole body with the oxygen it needs will result in all systems and organs to function the way they should. A healthy respiratory system will strengthen your heart, a healthy immune system will help you fight off disease. Research has also shown that your mind attention and concentration improves drastically with deep breathing practices. Decreasing stress levels is a major benefit or proper breathing as it effects literally every part of your body. Heart, brain, digestion, skin, hair, posture....EVERYTHING!

If you want to improve your overall mind-body health, I would say, just start by learning how to breathe properly. It sounds so banale and simple but the truth is, most of us don't do it and we are mostly unaware of the damage we are doing to ourselves with each breath we take. It's not too late to fix that, and it doesn't take much :)

Inner Peace Maker, Jewellery Designer, Earth Lover

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