Breathing is an involuntary activity. As soon as you were born, you knew how to breathe without anyone teaching you. When you were a baby, even when you didn’t have conscious muscle control, you breathed. The way we breathe determines how much oxygen our blood transports to our tissues and muscles. Breathing and breathing properly is so vital to our circulatory function. We need to breathe properly in order to maintain our body’s good functioning.
When you engage in strenuous physical activity such as climbing a flight of stairs, more blood is pumped by your heart to go to the lungs to get oxygen. The blood then transports the oxygen it obtained from our lungs to your leg muscles which you use to climb the stairs.
The more stairs you climb, the more oxygen you need to power your muscles. Your need for oxygen requires you to breathe in more. When we continue our physical activity for a few more minutes, our body demands the oxygen so our breathing becomes fast which is why we pant-our lungs are trying to keep up the supply of oxygen that our body needs. In this situation, your heart is beating fast but you are not tense.
Deep Versus Short Breaths
When you are nervous, anxious, afraid, distressed or excited, your heart beats faster. Your pulse races, your heart pumps faster and you breathe in at shorter intervals. Breathing at shorter intervals makes you breathe more often but this does not mean that you are breathing in more deeply. There is a difference.
Deep breathing allows you to use most of your lungs’ capacity to hold in your breath. If you control your breath by breathing slowly and deeply, you stabilize your pulse – consequently, you slow down the beating of your heart.
Managing Stress Through Breathing
Stress is inevitable. You could be standing in line for coffee at the corner coffee shop and you hear a bus’ engine backfire – you think it is a gunshot and your body’s stress reaction is turned on. The stress reaction (the fight-or-flight reaction) enables you to meet a perceived danger, however, living with chronic stress tires out your heart and it alters your brain chemistry: you become more irritable and even more anxious. One advantage to learning how to breathe properly and deeply is that it helps calm you down during times of stress.
When it’s past ten o’clock and your teenage kids are not answering your calls or texts on their cell phone, you begin to worry – notice how your heart rate picks up – the next thing you know, you’re breathing faster and taking more shallow breaths.
Your muscles tense up, your palms get sweaty and your stomach feels knotted up. If your teenagers don’t come home until midnight, your heart will be racing for two hours. If your kids make it a habit to come home late every night you will be sitting in the living room all tense every night. In this situation, you are not doing any strenuous physical activity, and yet, your heart is racing – you are having a stress reaction.
Deep and slow breathing will help you relax even as you experience stress.
You can test whether deep and slow breathing will work for you by lying down and putting a hand on your belly. Inhale through your nose slowly while silently counting up to five. You will notice your belly rise. Hold your breath for about four or five seconds. Then, release your breath. Exhale slowly, counting to eight. Make sure you empty your lungs.
Do this deep and slow breathing for four or five times. You will notice that your muscles will relax. And you will feel that your tension has melted away.
You are still thinking about your kids but you are no longer tense. You are still thinking about grounding them, but you’re not all knotted up inside. Learn how to breathe slowly and deeply – your peace of mind depends on it.