February 20, 2023

Take a Deep Breath

Deep breathing almost feels trendy. People talk about taking a deep cleansing breath like it is a new idea containing groundbreaking healing properties. But mindfulness and mindful practices, which include meditation and deep breathing, have been an Eastern spiritual and cultural tradition for thousands of years. However, it wasn’t until the late 20th century that practicing mindfulness began to gain widespread recognition and popularity in the Western world, which might explain why it feels so trendy.

In recent years, the trend of mindfulness and deep breathing practices has continued to grow with increasing popularity. As a result, mindfulness-based programs and techniques weave into the daily lives and routines of many organizations, businesses, and individuals by using language like “breathe, self-care, take a minute, feel your inner-self.” This widespread popularity has led to a growing body of research demonstrating its many benefits for physical and mental health.

Mindfulness is a broad category that includes self-care, deep breathing, spirituality, and complicated yoga poses, to name just a few. So here I will narrow the field and focus on just a couple of physical and mental benefits of taking a deep breath.

  • Reduce stress and anxiety: Deep breathing slows down the heart rate and lowers blood pressure through a process called the relaxation response. When you inhale deeply, it sends a signal to your parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the body’s rest-and-digest response to relax. Relaxation leads to a decrease in blood pressure as the blood vessels dilate and blood flow slows down.

Deep breathing also increases the body’s oxygen supply which has a calming effect and further helps to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. In a way, deep breathing acts as a natural technique to relax and regulate cardiovascular function and promote overall physical and mental well-being.

  • Improved sleep: I love taking a few deep breaths when I lie down at night. It is a perfect way to conclude my day. Deep breathing helps regulate the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, known as the circadian rhythm. It also sends signals to the nervous system to calm down, reducing stress hormones such as cortisol levels in the body. A few deep breaths help slow the heart rate and bring calm and relaxation. Relaxing the mind and body makes it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night, so you feel refreshed and rejuvenated in the morning.
  • Increased energy: Deep breathing boosts energy levels by increasing oxygen to the body and improving respiratory system efficiency—each breath you take transports oxygen to the body’s cells and tissues through the bloodstream. An increased supply of oxygen helps energize the body, boost physical and mental functioning, and reduce feelings of fatigue and sluggishness.

Deep breathing also improves the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the lungs, leading to more efficient oxygen utilization and less build-up of carbon dioxide. This improved respiratory function increases oxygen supply to the body, boosting energy levels and supporting overall physical and mental well-being, and reducing feelings of fatigue and stress.

  • Better digestion: Deep breathing stimulates the digestive system, improving digestion and reducing symptoms of digestive issues. As mentioned previously, it activates the parasympathetic response. This response regulates digestion and elimination and reduces digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, and indigestion. It also helps digest a meal, especially when you make deep rhythmic breathing a part of your daily routine.
  • Boosted immunity: Everywhere I go lately, someone is coughing, sneezing, or complaining about feeling under the weather. You have probably had a similar experience. Sleep and relaxation are when the greatest healing happens in the body, which explains why rest is our go-to when we don’t feel well. Deep breathing promotes relaxation and reduces stress, which is essential to maintaining a strong and healthy immune system. Chronic stress weakens our immunity and makes fighting off infections and illnesses more difficult.

Practicing stress-reducing behaviors like deep breathing is amazingly effective in boosting immunity not just because it promotes relaxation by reducing levels of cortisol and increasing the production of cytokines – proteins that help coordinate the immune response, but also because the increased oxygen helps reduce inflammation, a key factor in many chronic health conditions.

  • Improved mental clarity: It amazes me how taking a deep breath wakes up my thinking. I often tell my students that if they feel like their brain is foggy and their concentration is weak when studying, they should take a break, get some fresh air, and take a deep breath. That alone makes a huge difference in mental acuity. When we’re under stress, our breathing tends to become shallow and rapid, which can lead to feelings of anxiety and confusion.

Just by taking a few deep breaths, increasing oxygen levels in your brain, and focusing on the sensation of your breath moving in and out of your body, you can quiet your mind and increase your ability to focus and think clearly. It aids in problem-solving, clarity, and overall cognitive function.