Below, Alison Jowett touches on breathing, overbreathing and the importance of breathing exercises for the Over 50s …
Your health is almost certainly your greatest asset. As you mature, maintaining good health can sometimes become more challenging. Stress is a major contributor to ill health, so finding ways to deal with this illusive stress response is vitally important.
But there is a simple way that you can affect your health and reduce your stress levels and it’s free and available to everyone, including you…. Your breath.
When your body becomes stressed your breathing rate and heart rate increases. But if you breathe more rapidly you can also increase your stress response which can lead to anxiety, asthma and blood sugar fluctuations. Rapid breathing for 5 minutes can even lead to angina symptoms. Inflammation can also increase when we breathe too much, making muscles and joints achier over time.
This state of overbreathing is known as chronic hidden hyperventilation, which has also been linked with digestive disturbances and dizziness and headaches. Simply by slowing down your breathing you can help to reduce the fight and flight stress response in your body. When you practice this regularly you can begin to reset your breathing mechanisms keeping you in a more relaxed state and more resourced to be able to deal with life’s ups and downs.
To improve your health, ideally you would breathe in and out through your nose, as this warms and filters the air as it flows into your lungs. During a stress response most people breathe into their upper chest .By breathing into your tummy, using your diaphragm and allowing your chest to rest you will use a lot less effort. For breathing to be relaxed and effective you can reduce both the volume and the rate of your breathing. This enables the best oxygen exchange in your body, a little bit like taking small sips of air, but with the movement of breathing happening lower down, so your shoulders can rest and relax.
Breathing and Relaxation
For ideal relaxation you might aim to breathe around 6 breaths per minute. Most people are breathing on average around 12 breaths per minute or more. Once a stress response has occurred, if the body keeps breathing more rapidly even after the stress has long gone, it maintains a state of over activity which can lead to eventual fatigue, which is where symptoms often start occurring, like chest tightness or shortness of breath or a headache. You can gradually slow your breathing down by increasing the length of each outbreath. Eventually you might become comfortable with breathing in for 4 seconds and out for 6 seconds.
Every couple of minutes you can also pause for a few seconds at the end of your outbreath and allow your whole body to soften and relax in the pause. This enables your system to reset itself. During the pause you slightly raise the level of carbon dioxide in your body, this means the oxygen you breathe in will be delivered more effectively to the tissues in your body. It is actually the carbon dioxide that triggers the release of oxygen from the red blood cells. Becoming comfortable with a feeling of a little bit of air hunger is vital in this resetting process. It is important to remember as you pause that you must be able to take a gentle relaxed breath in on your next inhale otherwise the stress response will be reactivated. Take it gently and don’t rush. You can repeat this breathing exercise for 10 – 20 minutes with a pause at the end of your outbreath every two to three minutes.
If you have any health problems then please consult your Doctor before undertaking any breathing exercises.
Here are the six steps to healthier breathing and stress reduction that you can practice for 10 -20 minutes twice a day, sitting in a relaxed comfortable position.
- Breathe in and out through the nose Keep your breathing silent and relaxed
- Breathe using your diaphragm so that you breathe from the bottom of your tummy upwards
- Notice any areas of tension or holding and allow them to soften as you breathe out
- Every couple of minutes pause at the end of your outbreath and relax the centre of your chest
- When you breathe in again take a very gentle in breath and breathe normally for another couple of minutes before repeating the pauses up to ten times with two minutes relaxed breathing in between.
- Aim to slow your breathing to around 6 breaths per minute. In for four seconds and out for six seconds.
It might sound strange to breathe less not more but as you practice this exercise each day for a month you will start to retrain your body to a more relaxed way of breathing which can help to maintain and even improve your health, you might even inspire others to do the same.
By Alison Jowett
Alison is a breath work expert, and therapist offering osteopathy, naturopathy and hypnotherapy in York and over at www.yorknaturalhealth.co.uk