Recently my friend’s teenage son confided in methat he found so many things in life irritating and his list was extensive. Dripping taps, doors creaking, loud noises, his sister’s voice, 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, many people fall into this category of shallow breathing.
This boy is so locked up in his lower lungs/chest that all he can do is short high breaths. I wish I could conclude this anecdote with how much his attitude improved when he learnt to breathe deeply but hey, it’s hard enough to get most teenage boys to do anything let alone change their breathing habits. But we’re working on it!
On average most of us breathe about 15 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.
As point of reference, when your body is undergoing stress because of sickness, your breath rate is usually around 20 bpm, and for terminally ill people it is around 30 bpm. While there is little or no evidence that fast breathing rates may cause or exacerbate health issues, there is plenty of evidence to show that slowing down the breath has immensely beneficial effects of 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 improve our overall health. 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 bought about by stress like a compromised immune system, digestive disorders, type 2 diabetes, forgetfulness, aggression and insomnia.
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 can be stimulated by deep breathing.
So many people have been shallow breathers all their life and suffering the consequences simply from never having been taught to breathe deeply. If you feel like your breathing could be improved please take the time to read this deep breathing article and then you also will be able to enjoy the wonderful benefits of dwelling in the relaxation zone.
By Vrndavan Dasi
Founder and Principal of Veda Yoga Teacher Training