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How to Improve Your Breathing to Live a Better Life

By Dr. Molly Casey

Deep Breathing

Breathing is necessary for life, obviously. It is essential for feeding oxygen to your brain and blood cells to facilitate life. Proper breathing -- which gets the most out of every breath -- is among the most important of the basic health practices to improve your body’s function and health as a whole.

While every cell of your body needs oxygen to survive and function, proper breathing also does something else. It helps the body get into and remain in the parasympathetic nervous system. This portion of the nervous system is where we should be living -- and functioning -- most of our lives: a state of rest and digestion. It controls the organ functions and regulates processes that occur when we are relaxed, calm, and operating on a day-to-day basis.

Here we’ll look at breathing patterns that go beyond fulfilling the need for oxygen simply to survive but to breathe with intention to give your body what it needs to improve your overall health and well-being.

Why Should You Care

Most folks these days have high levels of stress, and they are chronic at that. Such anxiety keeps the body functioning in the sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight/freeze). It focuses on survival, including involuntary responses to dangerous or threatening situations that flood the body with hormones and increase heart and breathing patterns. When the body is in this state long enough, it becomes so accustomed to it that it takes them on as the typical daily operating procedure.

This dysregulated normal has to ultimately have an effect long-term. The national aging and safety database, in conjunction with Clemson University, states that up to 90 percent of all illness and disease is stress-related. It’s also not rocket science to infer that when cells of the body are given the oxygen they need to function optimally, they live longer; thus, you live longer.

You do want to live longer, right?

Patterned Breathing

Whether you know it or not, you have patterns to your breathing. Most of those patterns are stuck in dysfunctional patterns that perpetuate the fight/flight/freeze cycle.

Breathing that promotes and supports the body functioning in the parasympathetic state occurs with breathing air in through the nostrils. Two-thirds of the breath goes down into the diaphragm, deep into the belly. You should actually see the belly expand outwards. The last one-third of the breath should be into the lungs with a small bit of chest expansion seen.

Sympathetic breathing patterns -- what most of you reading this are doing right now -- are taking air through the mouth, going almost fully into the chest, which effectually rises, but with minimal (if any) air reaching the diaphragm and no belly expansion occurring. This is basically breathing to get by.

How to Shift Your Breathing Pattern

Becoming aware of your breathing patterns and then consciously working to change them is a simple, inexpensive way to help your body switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic nervous system functioning. In fact, it’s free. All it takes is a bit of practice.

To do so, close the mouth and lips and gently inhale through your nose for a count of four seconds. Pause at the top of the inhale (hold your breath) for four seconds. Exhale through your nose for four seconds. Pause at the bottom of the exhale (hold your breath) for four seconds. Repeat the process and complete 10 cycles of this.

It’s often easiest to first practice this in a quiet place to be able to notice and understand what you are doing. As you progress and practice, with consistency you will recognize you can do this anywhere. As you continue further, you will begin to notice your body shifting into this practice as the new normal pattern of breathing. That is the goal!

Chiropractic Can Assist

Chiropractic adjustments help improve nervous system communication by removing any structural interference from the spine. There are certain adjustments that can be performed in areas of the spine that directly affect the parasympathetic nerves. Chiropractic care is a wise choice in an effort to help your body help itself and repattern the rest and digest state your body functions best in.

Breathing is about more than survival. Assuring the majority of your daily breathing patterns are supporting the parasympathetic nervous system is a healthy choice. It’s free and does not take a lot of time. But it does take effort and consistency.

Start improving your health today by changing the way you breathe. It will give a new definition to “like a breath of fresh air.”

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