Breathing is easy, right? It’s not something that we really have to think about. Its a good thing God created our bodies to breathe on their own, because if we did have to think about breathing, that’s what we would be doing… ALL. DAY. LONG. There are also a couple of different ways that we can breathe. We can take short shallow breaths, or long deep breaths. Shorter chest breaths would demonstrate a time when our bodies are in a more stressful fast -paced situation. While longer breaths would indicate a more relaxed state of being. Now, which kind of breath do you think better aids you body’s functions? If you are following where I am going with this, and recognize how much our bodies need oxygen to survive, then you will understand the importance of making sure that we are breathing correctly throughout the day. First lets address what happens when we take shallow breaths all day long.
We are not meant to constantly breathe with shallow breaths. When we breathe in a shallow way, it is telling our bodies that something is wrong and activates our fight or flight mechanism . With low grade chronic modern day stressors such as traffic on our commutes, work deadlines, bills, ect, we can experience a lot of pressure that promotes these shallow breaths, or causes us to hold our breath all together. Its no wonder that many people experience symptoms of chronic fatigue when our bodies are preparing to flee or fight all day long! In Cynthia Perrkins article, Chronic Stress and Its Effect on Your Health, she goes into detail about the stress response and that when it is activated,
“fear and anxiety pervade, heart rate goes up, blood glucose increases, digestion is shut down, immune function and circulation are downregulated, blood pressure rises, the detoxification system is impaired, sleep is disrupted, neurotransmitters get drained from excessive demand, hormone production and function is disrupted, our sense of smell, taste and sound are heightened, pupils are dilated, cognitive functions are impaired and we are less fertile.” (source)
As you can see, when we are in a chronic state of fight or flight it can wreak havoc in our body. I personally experience succumbing to this type of breathing at my current job. As a teacher, I am usually talking all day long and in a fast-paced work environment (aka I am constantly needed by 20 sweet 7 year olds all day). When you are talking a lot, it leaves little time for you to take quality breaths. Over the past year, I noticed that when I sat down to have lunch (a part of the day when I have a moment to myself) I was still very wound up and would end up scarfing down my food as if I was still in my “go go go” teaching mode. This is why it is important to consciously take deeper breaths throughout the day, especially when you find yourself facing a potential stress.
Now, lets talk about stopping to take deep breaths. When I say deep breaths, I mean breath that is coming from your nose to fully fill your lungs and belly, while shallow breaths would fill only your chest. This is going to slow down your heart rate and trigger a relaxation response in your body. When I have the opportunity throughout the day, I like to stop and take three breaths that are 15 seconds each. This would include a count of 5 breathing in, holding it in for 5 seconds, and exhaling for 5 seconds. Although, I don’t have very many opportunities to do this exercise at work, I make it a priority to do it before eating in order to activate the rest and digest phase in my body. You can practice this type of breathing when you have a good opportunity during the day, such as the car ride home from work, or if you feel a stressful situation arising. If you don’t have the opportunity to stop to take these long breaths during the day, just try to slow down your breathing and make sure that your breath is not rapid and shallow.
Breathing exercises are great to practice with kids too! If I have kids someday, I would definitely want them to practice yoga. Yoga focuses on deep breathing and has been shown to increase concentration. Sometimes I find that the kids in my class are a little wound up after activities, such as lunch and recess, when they are talking a lot to their friends, or running around. I notice an immediate difference when I tell them that we are going to take our deep breaths! They start to quiet down as the oxygen is going to their brains and they are getting ready to learn. I also take the opportunity, when we are walking outside, to tell them to breath in all of the fresh air!
Taking The Time To Breathe
-Here is my favorite website for alternating nose breathing and meditation exercises, but you can find many others online.
-Cosmickids is a great website for children’s yoga. They incorporate kids stories and yoga videos!
-When you feel yourself shallow breathing take 3 deep breaths of 5 seconds inhale, 5 seconds hold, and 5 seconds exhale
-When you don’t have a chance to stop to focus on deep breathing, just make sure you are aware and that you are not shallow breathing.