As you sit at your desk trying to reach a deadline, your focus is completely on the project assigned to you. Hours seem like minutes and pass as you focus on the task at hand.
You begin to feel anxious, overwhelmed and panicky. You bring yourself back into the moment and realize you were holding your breath. Your breathing had become erratic and out of rhythm.
You take a deep breath in and let it out to gain some much needed air.
This happens when work flow increases and everyday life stressors pop up. We become so involved in the world around us that we seem to lose track of an involuntary response we inherited thousands of years ago. We are faced with many obstacles in today's world, such as whether to wear a mask, step into a grocery store or go and spend time with your grandparents.
We don't have control over what is happening, but we do have control over what we choose to do to help get through these stressors and obstacles.
Deep breathing is one of the tools we can use to feel better and have more sustained energy to do the things we enjoy. Regular breathing exercises can also alleviate some of the symptoms that go along with acute chronic lung illness such as: allergies, asthma, COPD (increase lung volume and utilize oxygen more efficiently) and Parkinson's disease (to help project the voice).
Recent studies suggest prone breathing exercises can help with the effects of COVID-19. There are many different types of these exercises, but they all seem to have the same long term benefits if done consistently.
Here are a few of the benefits of consistent breathing exercises:
Deep breathing exercises decrease stress, increase calm. When you become stressed or anxious, your brain releases cortisol, the "stress hormone." By taking deep breaths, your heart rate slows, more oxygen enters the blood stream and ultimately communicates with the brain to relax. Deep breathing also ups your endorphins, the "feel good" chemical.
Deep breathing can relieve pain. Deep breathing triggers the release of endorphins, which not only helps create a euphoric feeling but also combats pain.
Deep breathing stimulates the lymphatic system (detoxifies the body). Breathing releases carbon monoxide, which is important to fully release. As breathing is in charge of 70 percent of cleansing the body of toxins (the other 30 percent is through bladder and bowels), if you do not breathe fully, your body must work overtime to release toxins.
Deep breathing also improves immunity. When your blood is fully oxygenated, it carries and absorbs nutrients and vitamins more efficiently. The more oxygenated the blood, the harder it is for illnesses to stay put in your system.
Deep breathing increases energy and improves stamina. The more oxygen is in the blood, the better your body functions.
Deep breathing lowers blood pressure (BP). As your muscles relax, this allows your blood vessels to dilate and improve circulation. Deep breathing also slows and regulates the heart rate, which also helps with lowering your BP.
Deep breathing improves digestion. The more you breathe deep, the more healthy blood flow you will produce, which in turn promotes your organs to function more effectively, including your intestines.
Now it your turn to try deep breathing a few times a week or every day for 10-20 minutes. There is no better time than now to pick up a new and healthy habit. I challenge you to learn to focus on your breath and respiratory system. To wear a mask or not wear a mask seems to be the question, but for now, just breathing is the answer.
Just like exercise, breathing is medicine.
Wesley Lochhead is an exercise specialist at the Sam B. Cook Healthplex. He received a bachelor's degree in Exercise Science and Wellness at Lincoln University. He has been employed with the Sam B. Cook Healthplex for 12 years. Along with training a wide variety of clients, he teaches Rock Steady Boxing which is a class specifically designed for people who have Parkinson's disease.