In case you weren’t aware, breathing — and by that I mean deep breathing — isn’t just a way to relax, it’s scientifically proven to have all kinds of positive effects on your health and wellbeing.
Among the benefits: lowered blood pressure and heart rate; reduced stress; decreased anxiety and even brain growth — specifically those areas associated with attention and processing of sensory input.
The magic behind all this goes back to our instinctive “flight or fight” response, which might have helped our ancestors outrun a woolly mammoth, but is now triggered by more modern threats like job security, financial stress, and relationship angst. It’s not uncommon these days to live in an almost constant state of low-level agitation which produces a steady stream of stress hormones that can lead to high blood pressure, anxiety and even an impaired immune system.
Deep breathing shuts that often unconscious, heightened state down. The main reason for this is that deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which counteracts the “flight or fight” response with a neurotransmitter that regulates the body’s responses. The result? A lower heart rate and blood pressure, increased focus and calmness, decreased anxiety, and the alteration of the blood’s PH levels.
And that’s just the short term. A reduction of the effects of stress and the hormones associated with them decreases the risk of heart disease, stroke and other long-term chronic health problems.
So how, exactly, does one breathe deeply? There are many ways to do it, but the key thing to shoot for is diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing — breathe from your belly, not your chest. Typically, you want to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
The ultimate goal: “full oxygen exchange”, or the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide.
So go ahead — breathe in!
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