Have you ever heard about mindful breathing? Learn more

Mindful Breathing

Have you heard that proper breathing can help you become more healthy?

Let's start with the basics and finish with practical guidelines for those who wish to begin their healthy breathing journey.

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Breathing

Primary body function

Breathing is fundamental to the human experience. Every system in our body relies on oxygen and every part of your body needs oxygen to survive. Think about it: Breathing is the first, and the last, thing you'll ever do. We usually do it automatically and we don’t think about breathing. It just happens. However, even though we do not analyse it all the time, it does have a major impact on our body, as well as on our mind and our emotions. This is why it is very important to understand breathing better.

Mind, body, and emotions

Proper breathing not only helps increase our consciousness and awareness levels, it also has been proven to help digestion, balance, posture, change your brainwaves and lower stress levels. Breath is an integral part of almost all processes in our body. Our body responds to our mind, however, we are also able to influence our thoughts and emotions through consciously controlling our body - for example through proper breath work. [1]

Age doesn't matter - conscious breathing is for everyone.

Explaining the biology

The stages of breathing

There are three things working together to make it possible for you to draw breath: the lungs, the diaphragm, and the intercostal muscles. Before we breathe in, the diaphragm, the main muscle used for breathing, is relaxed, and puffed up like a dome below our lungs. When you take a breath, the diaphragm contracts when you breathe in, pulling the lungs down, stretching and expanding them. This increases the space in your chest cavity, into which your lungs expand. Air flows through your nose and mouth in response. When you breathe out, intercostal muscles and diaphragm relax, back to their original state, causing the lungs and chest cavity to contract, pushing air out of the lungs, thus expelling carbon dioxide.

Breathe in

As your lungs expand, air enters your nose or mouth and is warmed and moistened. It then travels down your windpipe to your bronchial tubes – the tubes that connect your windpipe to your lungs. When the air reaches your lungs it enters the alveoli (air sacs), where oxygen is passed into your bloodstream. At the same time, carbon dioxide travels from the bloodstream to the lungs so we can breathe it out.

Breathe out

When you breathe out, the diaphragm then relaxes back into a dome position reducing the amount of air in your lungs. As the space in your chest cavity gets smaller, air rich in carbon dioxide is forced out of your lungs and windpipe, and then out your nose or mouth. Every breath we take enables a full oxygen exchange which is essential to provide oxygen to our body and get rid of carbon dioxide.

How do you breathe?

Everyone can enjoy healthy breathing providing it's done in the proper way.

Improper breathing

Just because we breathe involuntarily, doesn’t mean that we’re doing it correctly. Although breathing is a natural process and all of us are born with the skill to fully engage the diaphragm in order to take full breaths, we tend to get out of the habit as we become older. Due to stress, most people tend to breathe shallower with their chest, thereby not allowing oxygen to enter the diaphragm. This, in turn, leads to shallow breathing which deprives your body of the oxygen you need to function properly.

Healthy breath - here is how to do it

According to The American Lung Association (ALA) breathing properly involves breathing through your nose. Although breathing through your mouth is sometimes necessary, like during exercise, using your nose to breath can slow down the breath, allows the nostrils to filter toxins and allergens from the air, as well as warms and humidifies the air if necessary. As you inhale, first, fill the bottom section of your lungs with air. This causes your belly to expand, but your chest remains immobilized. Then, inhale with the middle section of the lungs and allow the rib cage to expand. Finally, fill the upper section of the lungs with air, so that the clavicles rise up. Exhalation is performed inversely to inhalation.

"If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly." [2]

Andrew Weil, M.D., pioneer in the field of integrative medicine. The author of "Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing"

Breathing: a simple, yet powerful act

Proper breathing equals better health. It helps to regulate important functions such as heart rate and blood pressure. It can also reinforce proper body mechanics that put less stress on your body as you move. So, why is this important?

  • Mindful breathing and heart health

    Heart health

    The heart and lungs work together to make sure the body has the oxygen-rich blood it needs to function properly. Several studies have shown how deep or diaphragmatic breathing can slow your heart rate and reduce blood pressure. [3][4][5] You can have a healthier heart just by taking deep breaths through your nose. According to the ClevelandHeartLab®, taking long, deep breaths through your nose, not only helps reduce stress and produce an all-over calming effect, it also helps release nitric oxide, a chemical that has been shown to expand blood vessels, increase blood flow, lower blood pressure and even prevent the buildup of artery-clogging plaque. [6]

  • Mindful breathing and digestion and abdominal health

    Digestion and abdominal health

    Oxygen also improves the function of our digestive tract. When our digestive organs receive proper amounts of oxygen, their ability to absorb nutrients increases. This, in turn, helps us maintain our weight because having the right amount of it can help your body fat burn efficiently. When we breathe deeply, the oxygen reaches our abdominal muscles rather than just remaining in our chest. This moves our abdomen muscles and helps them stay strong and active. Although you won't get a six-pack just by breathing, proper breathing techniques do help those muscles stay tight and firm. [7]

  • Mindful breathing - Strong body and immune system

    Strong body and immune system

    Proper breathing encourages full oxygen exchange which helps detoxify the body. When you breathe properly, the oxygen reaches every cell in your entire body, including the cells which make up your immune system. Your immune system is strengthened when the cells derive the necessary nutrients from oxygen. [8]

  • Mindful breathing - Strength and stamina

    Strength and stamina

    Whether you're running, biking, swimming, boxing, or training in any other sport discipline, you need to have good control over your breathing. Deep breathing helps control shortness of breath, boosts stamina, builds endurance, and increases muscular strength. [9]

  • Mindful breathing and Better sleep

    Better sleep

    A growing number of studies show that proper breathing techniques improve sleep and are effective against anxiety and insomnia. [10] Studies have also shown that deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which reduces the “fight or flight” response that causes feelings of anxiety or tension. Proper breathing helps suppress this stress response, resulting in a feeling of relaxation. [11]

  • Mindful breathing and Emotional awareness

    Emotional awareness

    Our feelings and emotions are closely connected to our breath. When we’re sad, we tend to sigh frequently. When angry, we breathe rapidly and in the grip of fear our breathing is shallow and from the top of the lungs. On the other hand, when we’re relaxed and content, our breath is slow and deep. Surprisingly, reverting the pattern allows us to change the way we feel. For example, breathing slowly and deeply allows us to become more relaxed. Consequently, controlling your breath pattern can lead to the corresponding emotion. [12]

  • Mindful breathing and Improving focus

    Improving focus

    Proper breathing can significantly improve your attention span and help you focus better. [13]Researchers at Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and the Global Brain Health Institute found that focused breathing affects levels of noradrenaline, a natural brain chemical messenger. Noradrenaline gets released into the bloodstream when you are curious, focused, or emotionally aroused. It enhances your attention to detail and improves overall brain health by promoting the growth of new neural connections. [14]When you’re stressed, you produce too much noradrenaline, making it difficult to focus. When you’re feeling lethargic, you produce too little of it, which also makes it hard to focus. [15]

  • Mindful breathing - Feeling more relaxed

    Feeling more relaxed

    The level of natural feel-good hormones called endorphins rise in our body when you maintain proper breathing. These hormones decrease the perception of pain and improve overall well-being. [16] Perhaps you're already in the habit of taking a deep breath to calm down when you're feeling angry, nervous, frustrated, or anxious. However a regular practice of deep focused breathing might offer even bigger benefits. [12] While rapid breathing can often be a symptom of stress or anxiety, research shows that taking control of our breathing can also influence how we feel.

Why do we "forget" about proper breathing?

Stress is the new epidemic

A 2016 global assessment by WHO recognized that 350 million people live with depression, stress and anxiety. [17] Stress is a major risk factor for the development of many chronic diseases, both physiologic (cancer, cardiovascular disease) and psychological (anxiety, and depression). [18]What causes this unprecedented amount of stress in todays societies? It turns out that the majority of stress is caused by ordinary life events: work, school, finances, family social interactions, and expectations. [19]

Deep breathing vs. stress

When we experience anxiety, we tend to take rapid, shallow breaths. Even when NOT under stress, we may feel like we are hyperventilating, multiplying the succession of shallow breaths. This leads to stress, which causes shallow breathing, which increases stress, and so on, in a vicious cycle. The effect can snowball, creating tension which may lead to poor posture and exacerbating respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD. Deep breathing helps loosen tight muscles, in the same way stretching does, by helping release tension which is usually built up from the stress we face in our everyday lives. [11] [20]

Stress is the new epidemic and mindful breathing might be a great tool to improve our health.

Breathing exercises - self-care for everyone

Now that you understand some of the physical and physiological effects of shallow breathing, discover all the benefits of deep breathing, through specific deep breathing exercises and by training the body to breathe deeper naturally.

Box breathing

Box breathing, sometimes also referred to as four-square breathing, is usually used to reset, calm down and refocus. - Inhale for 4 seconds - Hold your breath for 4 seconds - Exhale for 4 seconds - Hold your lungs empty for 4 seconds

Few minutes of this exercise will make you calm down and help you focus on your tasks without making you feel sleepy.

Coherent breathing

Coherent Breathing is a form of breathing which involves taking long slow breaths at a rate of about six per minute. - Inhale for 4 seconds - Exhale for 6 seconds Repeat the cycle a few times while consciously focusing on your breath to feel more calm. Coherent breathing, also referred to as deep breathing, helps to calm the body through its effect on the autonomic nervous system.

4-7-8 breathing

The 4-7-8 breathing technique is often used in meditation or other relaxation techniques like yoga and pranayama. Practice 4-7-8 while falling asleep as it helps to fall asleep faster and improves sleep quality. - Inhale for 4 seconds - Hold your breath for 7 seconds - Exhale slowly for 8 seconds Don’t worry if you won’t be able to perform full exercise the first time, keep trying and you will get there.

How to incorporate healthy breathing patterns in everyday life?

Breathwork for beginners

Breathing properly is definitely a useful tool for the mind and the body. Breathwork, unlike many forms of contemporary therapies and practices, requires no special equipment or space. All you need is the willingness to turn your attention inward for a moment or two. If you’re wondering when and where to start, how about right now with the exercises you’ve already read about?

Breathing exercises are easy to try even for beginners.

Establishing a routine is important

Try to focus on your breathing at the same time everyday, whether that’s as soon as you wake up in the morning, before you go to bed each night as part of your nighttime routine or when you're having your afternoon coffee. When concentrating on your breath at the same time each day, breath work will become second nature and part of your daily routine, just like that morning cup of coffee.

Bring more calmness to your life by staring a routine.

Even three minutes a day is beneficial

Even if you have had a hectic day, here are simple ways to find that moment of peace and practice effective breathing techniques which will help you feel better What might be the best thing about breathwork? That even a few minutes of practice can provide instant benefits to our health and overall well-being. There are many long-term benefits of healthy breathing as well. A few, peaceful minutes for yourself to slow down, relax, reset and focus once again on the challenges that are waiting for you everyday.

Small relaxing breaks during stressful day are very important.

Stay with us a little bit longer

If you’d like to read more about topics connected to healthy breathing and meditation, please visit Mudita Blog. You might also like to join our Forum Community where we discuss ideas and exchange information about all things connected to wellness and digital well-being.

This is just the beginning!

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Safety first!

Please note that we do recommend for you to consult with your doctor before starting any continuous breathing exercises. Especially, if you have any preexisting conditions or illnesses related to the respiratory or cardiovascular system, experience any chronic pain, if you are pregnant, think you may be pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant. In the event you feel unwell after performing breathing exercises, please contact your doctor right away.