Paying attention to how you respire can foster greater health and well-being.
by Beverly Burmeier
Drawing breath: It is the very definition of being alive. But as ordinary—and vital—as the act of respiration is, most people don’t do it in the most healthful manner.
“Correct breathing is a cost-free, drug-free path to better health,” says Gerilynn Connors, RRT, MAACVPR, FAARC, a respiratory therapist and pulmonary rehabilitation specialist in Falls Church, Virginia, and chair of the American Association for Respiratory Care’s Continuing Care and Rehabilitation Section. “We take breathing for granted because it’s automatic and natural from birth, but the benefits of proper breathing affect all systems of the body.”
Test your own breathing style by placing one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Take a normal breath and see which hand rises more. If the hand on your chest does, you’re taking short, shallow breaths instead of deep, relaxed and effortless breaths that come from using your diaphragm, the dome-shaped muscle between the chest and the abdomen, to move air in and out of your lungs.
A significant number of studies have shown that deep, meditative breathing helps to calm the nerves, relax muscular tension and reduce pain and stress. Deep breathing also boosts blood circulation while reducing blood pressure and heart rate; in addition, it promotes clearer thinking and increases energy levels. “Getting enough oxygen into your body allows muscles and organs to function more effectively,” Connors says.