Lifestyle Medicine
Featured Article
Breath Practice: Making Your Own Medicine

Some of the most chronic and debilitating diseases that affect most North Americans if not all populations can be significantly helped with something as simple as the breath.

With changing the pattern of your breath, you can get almost instantaneous changes in your physical and emotional wellbeing.

With deep breaths and longer exhalations, your body starts to increase and decrease certain neurotransmitters and hormones that have positive effects on your overall wellbeing. In the most basic sense, just by changing your breath to one that involves more of the diaphragm, a large muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen, we can shift the body into more of the parasympathetic response of the autonomic nervous system. The parasympathetic system is more of what is termed the rest and digest mode vs. the sympathetic system, which is more of a flight or fight system. When in the parasympathetic mode, we release more chemicals and neurotransmitters that are cholinergic in nature. Such as acetylcholine; more about relaxation, digestion, and healing. We increase what is called vagal tone (Vagus nerve), which stimulates the parasympathetic response.

When we inhale we deep belly breaths, the diaphragm moves downward to increase the space for our lungs in fully expand. This not only makes more room but pushes down on the organs under like the intestines causing an increase of motility for digestion, the liver to aid in detoxification, etc. The diaphragm pushes blood in the chest to the heart and lungs and to pump blood and food through the digestive tract. It also helps pump the lymphatic system for detoxification, getting rid of metabolic waste.

Most people take shallow breaths with their chest. If we can start to use our belly on the inhale for deeper inhalation and then exhale longer, we slow down the respiration rate, decrease blood pressure, and increase heart rate variability. This allows for a more flexible response to the complexities we face daily.

Just altering our breath, slowing down our breathing from 14 cycles per minute to 5-7 breaths per minute, we can increase our immune system; decrease our stress hormones; aid in digestion; promoting a clearer mind, which will affect us in many positive ways including physical and emotional/psychological wellbeing.

We are literally making medicine within our bodies. In fact, some of the most profound medicine, all at no cost! Just with simple breathing exercises with intention and relaxation, we increase our use of oxygen utilization and increase our energy metabolism. That is correct; we actually increase our energy by slowing down using a mindful, intentional breath.

There are many breathing exercises, including mindfulness breathing, Qi Gong breathing, Tai Chi breathing, and yogic breathing. Below, are three breathing exercises to try.

  1. Deep belly breath that rolls to the chest hold for 2-4 seconds and slow, long exhalation. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the nose. Do this three times.
  2. Chinese Qi Gong breathing; XiXi Hu: Xi means breath in. Hu means breath out. Two breaths in, one from the belly (diaphragm) one from the chest, hold for 2-4 seconds and out through the nose or mouth, longer on the exhale. Do this three times.
  3. Insomnia breathing; 4-7-8. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and breathe out for 8 seconds. Do this 4xs and then feel yourself go back to sleep.

All in all, just by learning how to use the breath, diaphragm, and chest correctly, you can increase wellness and decrease anxiety and inflammation, creating balance and harmony in the body and mind.

View Motivation Video on Breath