On Your Health

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Breathe Your Way to Better Health

Breathe in, breathe out. We do it hundreds of times a day, right? Actually, it's more like 20,000 times a day! (On another note: did you know that if the lungs were opened flat they would cover the size of a tennis court? But that's a blog post for another day). Anyway, breathing seems so simple. But breathing correctly is one of the best things you can do for better health.

"Breath work" is a general term used to describe any type of therapy that utilizes breathing exercises to improve mental, physical and spiritual health. Dr. Andrew Weil, who is a world-renowned pioneer in the field of Integrative Medicine and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, calls it the simplest and most powerful mind/body technique in his arsenal and says, "If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be to learn to breathe correctly." And there's more good news -- it's absolutely free!

But why is it so good for you? Breath work has a powerful effect on health because breathing is a bodily function that's both voluntary and involuntary. Through breath control you can voluntarily relax your involuntary nervous system, which regulates the heart, digestion and other bodily functions. Many illnesses are the result of imbalances to this system, such as hypertension, circulatory disorders and urinary problems.

Dr. Weil says breath control can lower blood pressure, correct heart arrhythmia and improve digestive problems. Breath work also increases blood circulation throughout the body which can help decrease anxiety, improve sleep and increase energy levels.

Dr. Weil has several different breathing techniques, but you might want to start with the simplest technique of all: just follow your breath.

  • Either sit or lie on your back with your spine straight.
  • Close your eyes and place your concentration on breathing in through your nose.
  • Be careful to let this happen naturally and try not to influence your breathing.
  • This should feel relaxing and pleasant.
  • Your breathing should be slow, deep and quiet.
  • If you notice your thoughts beginning to wander, gently bring your mind back to your relaxing breaths.

Begin by practicing for five minutes daily. Try to breathe “abdominally” so that you're using your respiratory muscles. You will feel your belly inflate and expand instead of your chest if you're doing it correctly.

You can practice whenever you think about it, whether at a red light, in your chair at work, or in line at the grocery stores -- simply take a series of breaths and make a concerted effort to breathe slowly, deeply, quietly and evenly. This exercise is also a great stress reliever when needed.

As you become more efficient at controlling your respiration, more oxygen will be delivered to your organs. With practice and as you learn to breathe more deeply, this could become the way you unconsciously breathe.