Do you also catch yourself breathing shallowly and short? Especially in stressful situations, we often become short of breath. Most of us are not aware that our breathing gives us access to a bodily function that is connected to the nervous system.
No life without oxygen
From a scientific point of view, breathing provides us with oxygen, which enters the blood when we breathe in, circulates in the body, and goes right into body cells. Without oxygen, we could only survive for a few minutes. Our breath is very closely connected to the nervous system. Stress has a direct effect on breathing. And since many of us are exposed to stressful situations quite frequently, our breathing suffers as well. No wonder there are now breathing coaches and schools, and even a "World Breathing Foundation" based in Amsterdam.
On average, a healthy person breathes about 20,000 to 30,000 times a day - you have to let this number melt on your tongue. Good breathing capacity is essential for a high quality of life. Our big problem is that we do not breathe out completely. This means that used air often remains in the lungs. By the way, laughing heartily more often helps here because we then breathe in and out deeply. And that pleases our oxygen balance.
Learning to breathe correctly from the yogis
Why don't we devote a few minutes a day to conscious breathing? In yoga, mindful breathing has played an extraordinary role for thousands of years. Practical is alternate nasal breathing. With your right thumb, gently press the right nostril closed and breathe deeply through the left. Then use your right ring finger to close the left nostril and exhale through the right one. Do this a few times in a row and hold your breath after inhaling before exhaling. An excellent exercise, especially in stressful situations.
Oh yes, the yogis also recommend breathing through the nose. It cleans the air, warms it up, and moistens it.
Breathe correctly even during sports
"You can improve your breathing by physical training or sports that challenge cardiovascular fitness such as running or swimming," explains Ngoc Kha Thran, a personal trainer in Düsseldorf. "Playing sports with the ball also train and improve breathing. Breathing generally ensures the body's supply of oxygen during athletic exertion. For this reason, correct and even breathing is completely important during training. For example, during a classic endurance workout at a moderate pace, there is what is known as a 4-step rhythm. This means breathing in and out every four steps. The breathing frequency is extended, which is also necessary to avoid side stitches or cramps. When running or sprinting faster, breathing is also adjusted accordingly. During strength training, correct breathing is also essential. Here it is crucial to supply the body with sufficient oxygen during the load. As a rule, breathing is exhaled during the concentric phase (contraction) and inhaled during the eccentric phase (stretching).
To sum up, the quality of sporting activity or training depends very much on correct breathing. On the other hand, breathing is thereby challenged and trained accordingly."
Becoming an extreme athlete with targeted breathing training
You can also learn a lot from hardcore gurus. The Dutchman Wim Hof, who became known as the "Ice Man," was able to endure an hour in a container full of ice through targeted breathing training, among other things. Granted, that's pretty out there and extreme. But check out his website, where he offers, among other things, a (paid) tutorial on breathing for beginners. And then there's a certain Stig Severinsen, multiple world champion freediver, doctor of medicine, and practicing yogi. The Dane holds several world diving records and has published the book "Breatheology." He, too, is convinced that good breathing increases physical and mental performance, reduces pain, and generally improves health.
As we age, breathing - like so many things - becomes increasingly important. Lung volume and the ability to ventilate it diminish and can reduce the amount of time you have left to live.
- Train the breath!
- Generate awareness for breathing!
Simple breathing exercises
During the Corona Lockdown, in addition to regular fitness and yoga exercises (during which I automatically pay attention to conscious breathing), I got into the habit of meditating for 10 minutes in the evening, imagining breathing in healthy air deeply and exhaling stale air thoroughly. Also recommended is diaphragmatic breathing. You can do that while sitting or lying down. Make yourself comfortable; place one hand below your collarbone and the other on your sternum. With your hands, notice your inhalation and exhalation. Then direct your attention to the lower hand and mentally breathe there. Then, with both hands, go below the ribs and feel how the abdominal wall rises and falls due to the diaphragm movement.
Currently very interesting: In Hamburg, professional opera singers are helping Long Covid patients with breathing problems to improve lung performance again with targeted breathing training.
With this article, I would like to provide inspiration, nothing more and nothing less. I am neither a doctor nor a therapist. Still, I have studied this topic intensively to share my personal experiences here.
For more information about breathing, I recommend the following websites:
If you have enjoyed this article, you may also wish to read this one about mindfulness.