Understanding and Harnessing the Power That Lies In Your Breath

Just like how your heart beats unaided, your respiratory system also does the same every second, minute & hour of every day- that’s why most people do not think they need to pay attention to it. Yes, it’s not compulsory to always think about how you breathe, but you’ll be missing out on many amazing benefits if you don’t.

Breathing is very important- I mean without it we can’t even stay alive in the first place. Every system in our body relies on oxygen- from cognition to digestion. Breathing fuels our body with oxygen and can also clear a foggy mind and help strengthen the muscles.

Now, when we are mindful or conscious about how we breathe, it does a lot more for our well-being than we could ever imagine. Effective breathing can not only provide you with a greater sense of mental clarity but can also help you sleep better, digest food more efficiently, improve your body’s immune response, and reduce stress levels. How you breathe can make a big difference to how you function and the science on this is becoming more and more overwhelming.

The Evidence & Science {Doctor Otto Walberg, Harry Goldblat, and Alexis Carrel}

First let’s review what happens when we breathe, what happens when we don’t breathe properly over time, and what we need to make sure we keep on top of it for a healthy and happy life.

We are made up of 33% Oxygen. When we breathe air we bring oxygen into our cells, which is transported around the body to supply oxygen to our organs. Energy is then created via Adenosine Triphosphate that takes the oxygen from the blood transported by hemoglobin to produce energy for our cells to operate. So, maximizing how much oxygen we can get into our bodies is helpful in terms of health because it helps generate the energy we require to maintain ourselves. The other equally important aspect is how we then remove the by-products of creating energy in the form of C02 efficiently.

Oxygen, especially the free radical form, is a problem for humans essentially; this is where there is an uneven number of molecules which means they are particularly reactive and can often cause chain reaction problems, this is known as oxidation. Ultimately this contributes to the aging process by damaging our DNA. In later chapters we will talk about how we can reduce the effects of this; food and antioxidants are critical but to reverse this we need to activate processes that repair our DNA from the likes of oxidation, which is part of the chapter on longevity (In the other category section of Mooshoo).

So back to our breathing science now; you should also note that having the right amount of water and nutrients in our bodies, and our lymph and drainage systems working optimally is very important and our breathing process helps this to ensure we excrete dead cells and toxins in our bloodstream.

From an evidence point of view, if we stop breathing even for a short time it’s a life-or-death problem. We know that starving our brains from oxygen for even short periods of time results in brain damage as cells that are not supplied with enough oxygen die. Now imagine if we smoke or have poor body posture, or never take the time to properly maximize our 02 levels, it simply starves cells of oxygen and stops us from fully ridding our bodies of toxins which of course leads to cancers, heart problems, etc, etc.

We talked about posture in the Mind, Physiology & Posture category section of Mooshoo. If you’re hunched over, for example, you’re limiting your diaphragm movement and impacting your capacity to fully breathe. Now compare this to someone with their shoulders back and straight, utilizing the full capacity of their lungs; can you see the difference in terms of how they breathe? So, just a change in posture can open up our lungs properly and supply our brains with oxygen, and furthermore helps expel CO2 more efficiently. It literally cleanses our blood effectively, helping us rid ourselves of unwanted toxins with every single breath.

Other unhealthy habits like smoking also inhibit our breathing, putting us at risk of serious health problems like lung infection, cancer, brain damage, heart problems, etc, and even speeds up our aging process because those habits prevent the sufficient flow of oxygen our body needs for proper functioning. That’s why it’s important for us to pay attention to how we breathe, avoid unhealthy habits that affect our breathing, and engage in activities that involve controlled breathing.

Harnessing our Breath Power

Many practices involve controlled breathing, think about most sports, weight training, running, swimming; any form of activity pretty much requires us to control our breath. Now think about natural cases like giving birth, or when we are in severe pain- where breath control helps us to exert force and manage pain; or special cases like how we calm our nerves before that important meeting, or theatre performance, speech or presentation, what do we all do?

We’ve been controlling our breathing since well over 5000 years old, a practice we term as calmed breathing or meditation, which may sound a bit hippie to some, but now has been proven to provide many incredible benefits which are very centered around the breath. The benefits of controlled breathing are very many. By learning a few simple breathing techniques, you can:

  • Reduce stress levels in your body
  • Lower your heart rate
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Improve diabetic symptoms
  • Reduce depression
  • Better manage chronic pain
  • Better regulate your body’s reaction to stress and fatigue
  • Reduce the possibility of burnout for caregivers

But whatever form controlled breathing may take like sports, yoga, etc, one thing for sure is that it works! Let’s look at a couple of proven breathing techniques and top tips that can be very helpful to you.

#1.Pranayama Breath Steps

Pranayama is a breathing technique from India that has been in existence since 5000 BC and it has a long-range of benefits for your health. ‘Pranayama’ is a Sanskrit word that translates to ‘control of breath’. ‘Prana’ means breath or life force and ‘ayama’ means to control. So it basically means controlling your life force through a series of techniques.

There are about 8 types of pranayama techniques you can practice, but some of them can be a bit of a difficulty for you, especially if time and privacy are a luxury. Nonetheless, there are a few you can easily practice. We recommend one of those techniques- The Dirga Pranayama (1-4-2) also known as the 3-part breath because it’s actively breathing into 3 parts of your abdomen. This technique is the easiest and can be done anywhere. We recommend 10 breaths 3 times a day.

Intentional breathing as in this practice will help calm you. Greater oxygen flow to the brain will help you become more focused and alert. This technique is taught to relieve stress and even to address panic attacks.

Here’s how to do it:
  • Simply inhale one big breath and count to 5 seconds. Ensure to take in as much oxygen as you can.
  • Ensure this is from the abdomen filling belly then the chest. Watch the pattern when you breathe. Fill in from your abdomen to your chest till you have had enough.
  • Now hold your breath for 20 seconds as part of the ratio (i.e. 4 times 5).
  • Finally, breathe out in a nice relaxed controlled way for 10 seconds (2 times 5).
  • Repeat 10 times.

Once you have completed this, it’s quite astounding how much energy you have after this, more interestingly is the amazing health benefits this will have on your life are quite remarkable. In addition, it helps relax the mind, release stress, and helps to calm yourself.

#2.Andrew Weil 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

A quick peek into the life of Andrew Weil shows a man that has simply refused to age- largely due to the extra attention he pays to his breathing, diet, and lifestyle. A celebrity medical practitioner who has been a strong advocate for alternative medicine, Dr. Weil is also the founder of Weil Lifestyle, LLC, a leading resource for integrative medicine education.

Dr. Weil contends that current medical practices were more curative than preventive, also too expensive, and too reliant on drugs, surgery, and technology. In his vision of healthcare in the future, Weil saw a shift toward preventive therapies, the understanding of the benefits of using natural drugs in diluted forms, and a better understanding of the connection between mind and body.

Among the integrative medical education Dr. Weil offers, includes the 4-7-8 technique, a controlled breathing technique also based on pranayama which Dr. Weil describes as a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”

The 4-7-8 Breath (also known as the Relaxing Breath) is the perfect, portable stress antidote, as it puts the practitioner in a relaxed state almost immediately; and as Dr. Weil demonstrates, It takes almost no time, requires no equipment, and can be done anywhere.

Here’s how to do it:
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight. This is one breath.
  • Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Take a look at this video to see how it’s done

#3.Bellow Breaths

This is another type of pranayama breathing technique that you can easily do and is very helpful. Also known as The Stimulating Breath, it is a vigorous exercise that is meant for raising energy and alertness.

Research has shown that this pranayama breathing technique can help with worry and tolerance of anxiety, as well as with PTSD.

So, rather than getting a cup of coffee, try this technique to give you that extra energy boost when you need it; and if done correctly, this technique really stimulates you and gets you fully oxygenating your blood.

Here’s how to go about it:

Do this for 15 seconds and then build-up

  • Inhale rapidly through your nose
  • Try to aim for 3 inhales and 3 exhales per second hence bellow breaths.
  • Build up to 45-60 seconds or so as you get better.

For more information see here.

#4.Wim Hof

One of the most interesting characters in the world of breathing is Wim Hof. He undergoes very extreme conditions in the cold. His feats demonstrate the profound effects that breathing has on the physiological and chemical processes of the body. His breathing techniques help to overcome these extreme conditions which without this control would cause severe cold-related problems.

Wim has developed special breathing exertions that keep his body in optimal condition and in complete control in the most extreme conditions. The other great reference for breathing practices is the yogic practice of pranayama, the benefits of this have been medically proven and there are many journals on the internet available to review.

Controlled breathing techniques should not serve as a replacement for medical treatment, rather they should serve as a preventive measure. They are most effective as part of a daily routine. Now that you’re properly informed, take action! Quit those unhealthy habits that hinder your breathing, monitor your breathing process and improve on it through controlled breathing techniques and watch your health improve as well.