Every Breath You Take

How many times per minute do you take a breath?  Did you know breathing is a key indicator of health and is part of the clinical guidelines doctors use to assess health?  Today’s medical guidelines state that less than 12 breaths per minute or over 25 breaths per minute (while resting) is considered abnormal.  But what is abnormal?   Some studies have correlated a resting breath rate of >25 to more than 50% of serious cases inside an ICU and recent studies show any adult with a resting breath rate of 20 is likely unwell and higher than 24, critically ill.  But, this information is not new and neither is the practice of paying attention and focusing on breathing techniques.

Gladiator Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing, namely deep breathing, has been around for centuries, if not longer.  Galen (129-200 AD), known as the “Doctor to the Gladiators,” left studies on the importance of deep breathing for health in humans.  Galen’s studies of the connection between using the abdominal muscles to breathe and overall health remain as relevant today as it was nearly 2000 years ago.  

Today’s doctors would find little to disagree with in these papers Galen left us so long ago.  Galen summarized and would be later elaborated on and refined by Leonardo da Vinci that the movements of the diaphragm and the belly (abdominals) are not separate and are very much intertwined.  DaVinci expanded on this notion and theorized 7 organs: the lungs, heart, stomach, liver, kidneys, spleen, and pancreas all surround and attach via ligaments are all related to form a symbiotic relationship.  Much of the information left by Galen and DaVinci brings us to today’s modern breathing techniques and practices.

Human Diaphragm
DaVinci’s drawing of the human diaphragm

Benefits of Deep Breathing

So, why has there been such an emphasis on breathing techniques over several thousand years?  What are the benefits?  Let’s make a quick list:

  • It makes you relax.  Sure, mentally beneficial but well-practiced breathing techniques for anxiety also lowers cortisol levels (known as the stress hormone, cortisol is responsible for fatigue, weight gain, libido issues etc…)
  • It can lower your blood pressure
  • It can lower your resting heart rate
  • It helps improve your core muscles and stability (for those of you who squat, deadlift, do jiu-jitsu etc…this is pretty important)
  • You can better handle intense exercise
  • It slows your rate of breathing so that the body expends less energy.  Expand less energy=you can do more
  • It can boost your immune system
  • You decrease your oxygen demand.  Think about that.  You need less air to function.  There are thousands of physical activities as well as your daily life that would benefit from deep breathing.

Great, So How Do You Get Started?

Deep breathing techniques are easier than you think and, luckily takes nothing but some time and focus.  Here is some basics first:

  1. Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position
  2. Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest
  3. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Make sure your chest doesn’t move
  4. Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out
  5. Do this breathing technique 3 to 10 times. Take your time with each breath
  6. Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise and try to do this 5-10 minutes per day at a minimum

This is literally the first step but there are also some books on the subject matter that we recommend.

Breathing All-Stars

The Wim Hof Method: Activate Your Full Human Potential by Wim Hof

Known as “The Iceman,” Wim Hof is talking about how he has transformed his life by sharing the secrets of his method in his passionate and gripping style. If you’re ready to explore and exceed the limits of your own potential, we highly recommend you read this book and learn about wim hof breathing techniques.

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor 

A New York Times Best Seller, Breath will change how you think about your body and mind. A fascinating scientific, cultural, spiritual, and evolutionary history of the way humans breathe, James Nestor will show you the right path to the right breathing techniques

Rickson Gracie 

Having devoted his entire life to Jiu-Jitsu, Rockson Gracie talks about his recent revelation about the importance of mental health over physical in various seminars around the world. If you want to learn more about his techniques, take a look at his site.

Final Thoughts

Breathing is one of, if not THE most important function of the body and mind.  Oxygen is the lifeblood of humans yet we spend so little time trying to improve our breathing techniques. Whether you are a competitive athlete, a person who suffers from severe anxiety, or someone who just wants to be the best you possible, breathing techniques should be incorporated into your daily regiment to improve your overall health.

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