Recently a friend confided that he found so many things in life irritating, and his list was extensive. Dripping taps, doors creaking, loud noises, and the list went on and on. The thought struck me to check his breathing and sure enough he belongs to the school of exclusive upper chest breathers.
Not an exclusive school it should be noted, most people fall into this category of shallow breathing for one reason or another. Some are so locked up in the lower lungs/chest that all they can do is short, high breaths.
On average most of us breathe about 15 – 20 breaths per minute (bpm) which typically uses about a third of our lung capacity and is dangerously close to taking us into the sympathetic nervous system range. The sympathetic nervous system, which kicks in at about 16 bpm, provides an inbuilt response which is meant to be activated only in times of need, when a highly alert state of vigilance is called for to combat any threats to you or your environment, but which unfortunately is all too common in our everyday life.
As point of reference, when your body is undergoing stress because of sickness your breath rate is usually around 20 bpm. While there is little or no evidence that fast breathing rates may cause or exacerbate health issues, there is plenty of evidence that slowing down the breath has immensely beneficial effects on our physical and emotional health.
When the breath rate gets down to 10 bpm the parasympathetic system kicks in. This system calms our mind, soothes our nerves and relaxes our muscles. There are many studies which have concluded that slowing down the breath increases our ability to learn, concentrate, and improves our health. The simple bodily mechanism that provides these healthy outcomes is the vagus nerve which runs from the brain down to the chest and abdomen and is stimulated by deep breathing.
In fact deep breathing has been clinically shown to manage stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, reduce risk of heart attack and stroke and even increase the growth of areas of the brain associated with cognition, especially in older people. Other benefits include the relief of those symptoms which are brought about by stress like a compromised immune system, digestive disorders, type 2 diabetes, forgetfulness, aggression and insomnia.
So many people have been shallow breathers all their life and suffering the consequences simply from never having been taught to breathe deeply. Please take the time to visit our deep breathing article to enjoy the wonderful benefits of dwelling in our relaxation zone!
By Vrndavan Dasi
Founder and Principal of Veda Yoga Teacher Training