3 Breathing Techniques to Improve Overall Health

Decrease Stress, Sleep Better, Improve Performance, and More...

Stress relief for most of us means an evening drink, relaxing on the couch to watch TV, or diving face first into a vat ice cream.  However, these do very little to reverse the negative effects of stress.  But there is one recommendation I give to everyone and it’s free and can be done anywhere. Can you guess what it is?

Breathe. Breathe deeply. Gain control over the only thing you do up to 20,000 times a day.

What happens when you practice mindful breathing?

-          Heart rate slows down

-          Digestion increases

-          Sympathetic nervous system decreases activity (Stress response)

-          Parasympathetic nervous system increases activity (restorative response)

-          Improve oxygen delivery to tissues for healthier tissues

-          Improves Immune system function

-          Overall Physiological, Physical, and Mental well being

Now that you understand the benefits of breathing, let me give you 3 techniques to practice.  I won’t go into detail about proper breathing mechanics here, but in a nutshell, when you inhale you should first see/feel the belly expand.  You should not see/feel the shoulders and rib cage elevate initially. All of these practices should incorporate deep belly breathing, not shallow chest breathing.

*All of the following techniques should be performed with nasal breathing.

Slow 1:1 Breathing:

This is the easiest way to start your breathing practice.  Work on getting as deep of an inhale as possible followed by a full exhalation, making sure they are done with an equal 1:1 ratio.  For example, 5 second inhale, followed by 5 second exhale.  As you increase the time of inhale and exhale, you’ll notice it difficult to control the air flow and you may end up holding your breath for the last few seconds of the inhale and exhale (Stop doing that).  Also, after several minutes of this, you’ll feel the urge to take a deep “reset” breath due to the inadequate exchange of air.  However, the more you practice the longer you’ll be able to sustain that inhale/exhale, and you won't have that urge to take a reset breath. For more of a parasympathetic activation (great for those with high anxiety), double the length of the exhale for a 1:2 ratio.

Exhale Breath Hold

Holding breath, specifically after an exhale, has been shown to simulate high altitude training for a number of reasons.  First, one study showed the spleen contracts (shrinks 20% of normal size on imaging) when performing 5 reps of maximal breath holds after exhalation. When it decreases in size, what is happening is an emptying of more blood into the system to help carry more oxygen.  This same study also showed an increase in both hemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen in the blood) and hematocrite (or percentage of entire blood that is carrying oxygen).  By training this on a regular basis you can simulate high altitude training and notice an increase in efficiency of oxygen delivery to the tissues, thereby improving your aerobic capacity. This is what the "training masks" claim to do, but have been shown in numerous studies not to accomplish...but they look totally cool. I get it.

Fun fact, Bane is just grumpy because he isn't getting enough oxygen to the brain. Oxygen restriction isn't the same as High Altitude training.

Fun fact, Bane is just grumpy because he isn't getting enough oxygen to the brain. Oxygen restriction isn't the same as High Altitude training.

Box Breathing 1:1:1:1

This variation is performed with an inhale, hold, exhale, hold, all with the same length of time.  This becomes very difficult to perform for more than a few minutes as you increase the length of each component.  This is uniquely important due to the breath holding component, specifically after the exhale as we just learned. Controlling the transitions to the inhale and exhale become more difficult as you increase your time, and it’s important to not gasp for air after the exhale hold, or release the majority of your air right away after the inhale hold.  Alter this drill slightly by increasing the exhale hold for as long as comfortably possible to decongest your sinuses before sleep.

While these are specific drills aimed at gaining control of your breath, simply taking several large inhales through the nose, expanding the lungs as much as possible, is a good way to wake up in the morning and is analogous to stretching before activity.  Also, its nearly impossible to get a full inhale in a slouched position so it reminds us to improve posture.

Don’t take breathing for granted.  Unleash the surprising power these techniques can have on your overall health, performance, and well being.

For more information on treatment or online coaching for sustainable exercise and pain relief, visit www.ChiroStrength.com or call the office 931-321-1414 to schedule your FREE consultation with Dr. Dunaway.