- Abdominal breathing regenerates our cells and organs.
- It reduces stress in the body.
- It maintains our blood PH levels.
- It positively influences our heart rate.
- It reduces inflammation in the body.
- And it improves our mental clarity.
Breath quite literally sustains life. Western medical research has shown that our health can be influenced by how well we breathe.
Thoracic and Abdominal breathing are the two types of breathing that occur automatically based upon the metabolic demands of the body. Thoracic refers to the area of the body encased by the ribs, which runs up to the clavicle whilst abdominal breathing relies upon a strong and important muscle called the diaphragm that extends across the base of the thoracic cavity.
These two types of breathing work in unison when the body is in balance physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. When the body’s metabolic rate require an immediate short-term boost the sympathetic nervous system comes into play and thoracic breathing supports this. Thoracic breathing isn’t necessarily unhealthy; it’s just less efficient. At rest abdominal breathing is dominant, the parasympathetic nervous system will be dominant and it’s slower and more calming to the bodymind.
Abdominal breathing being 6-7 times more efficient than thoracic breathing at pulling oxygen deep into the lungs, giving more time for oxygen and carbon dioxide to exchange. Breathing is the single most important physiological activity within our conscious control which can influence our nervous system.
1) Abdominal breathing regenerates our cells and organs:
Breathing less deeply and faster carbon dioxide is exhaled too fast and oxygen isn’t released appropriately into the bloodstream. Directly affecting the cells, tissues and organs this creates a constriction of smooth muscles and connective tissue which results a reduced blood flow. A reduced blood flow lowers the amount of oxygen available making the heart work harder. This is known as cell hypoxia and has been linked to a growth of cancerous tumors, angina agony (heart problems), diabetes, cystic fibrosis, asthma, bronchitis, osteoporosis and gastrointestinal disorders.
Deep abdominal breathing refers to how deep in the lungs the breath can go for this full gas exchange. To encourage deep breathing the diaphragm muscle should engage. Interestingly the diaphragm and the emotional centre of the brain are directly connected via an important nerve called the vagus nerve. This nerve feeds information from the body to the brain, controlling the parasympathetic nervous system, the relaxation response. When the nervous system balances, oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange balances which activates your stem cells for regeneration and renewing your tissues and organs.
2) Abdominal breathing reduces stress:
Stress perpetuates the survival of every species and is the body’s natural response to danger. When danger is signalled the sympathetic nervous system jumps into action and the stress hormone cortisol is released. Charging our strength and agility to face short term dangers. Under ordinary circumstances when the danger is gone, our breath returns to normal and the chemicals break down and the nervous system balances.
If however the sympathetic nervous system stays switched on and stress hormone remains present over an extended period of time the body stays in a state of stress. Stress is characterised by shallow thoracic breathing which drains the body mentally, physically and emotionally.
Diaphragmatic breathing switches on the vagus nerve and informs the brain we’re safe and initiates the relaxation response. If abdominal breathing is practiced regularly the vagus nerve tone increases as does our capacity to manage future stress appropriately.
3) Abdominal breathing maintains our pH levels.
Our bodies live and die at the cellular level. The first line of defence against disease is a pH balance between 7.30 – 7.45. A thoracic breath causes our pH to rise and can lead to respiratory alkalosis, which means excess alkalinity. Respiratory alkalosis is associated can be an indicator of cardiac and pulmonary disorders, and diseases that affect the heart and lungs.
Equally our body should not be acidic as this is a breeding ground for bacteria and tumours. If you are aware that your body is acidic, you can alkalise it through your breathing. Have a look at Wim Hof who has proven that with heightened oxygen levels in the blood there are endless benefits, one of which is balancing the pH of the body. See also my upcoming WORKSHOP.
4) it positively influences the heart rate:
Breathing influences the heart, when breathing faster the heartbeat increases and the opposite is true. The complexity of a heartbeat is called heart rate variability (HRV) or beat-to-beat variability. The more complex your HRV, the healthier you are. When a healthy person inhales with an abdominal breath the sympathetic nervous system is activated and with exhalation the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. Both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system are stimulated and work in balance creating a varied heart beat. People who are unhealthy will find the nervous system becomes stuck in a sympathetic dominant pattern with a low HRV, a minimal contrast between beats. A low HRV is usually accompanied by frequent thoracic breathing.
We are able to elicit the relaxation response required for the HRV to increase by elongating our exhalation. This means that with conscious awareness of abdominal breathing, accompanied by an elongated exhalation through the nose, we are able to stimulate the vagus nerve, which will in turn stimulate the under active part of the nervous system – the parasympathetic nervous system, via the brain, which will decrease the heart rate on the exhale, and overall improve the HRV.
5) it reduces inflammation in the body:
Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response and its beneficial in the healing process. Inflammation becomes a problem when there is excessive or prolonged inflammation from our body being stressed by our lifestyles. This may be from over exercising, overeating, lack of sleeping and extended periods of stress. Over time chronic inflammation throughout the body will develop into rheumatic diseases and other inflammatory conditions.
By concentrating our awareness on abdominal breathing, the parasympathetic nervous system comes into play. Activating the vagus nerve which reduces cortisol levels and calms the system. The ability to reduce inflammation comes back once more to the practice of conscious abdominal breathing.
6) Abdominal breathing improves our mental clarity:
Abdominal breathing brings more oxygen to the lungs. The brain uses 20% of the oxygen in the body and if we don’t have enough oxygen our mental clarity fades and our energy is depleted. Abdominal breathing encourages the correct amount of oxygen to be absorbed into the bloodstream, where it binds with red blood cells and is transported to all the cells in the body, including the brain. Here it increases the amplitude of theta brainwaves – the brainwaves that occur when you are feeling relaxed or in a meditative state, which in turn increases the parasympathetic nervous system activity, resulting in increased alertness and feelings of invigoration.
There are so many benefits to breathing abdominally of which I’ve only touched on a few. If you’d like to find out more please get in touch.