The Benefits of Better Breathing
The Breath – a few facts related to speaking
The primary function of breath is for life and the secondary purpose is for speech. In both cases the process of respiration is activated by the body’s response to positive or negative air pressure. It begins with the inhalation of oxygen; needed for cell metabolism, from the air into the lungs and ends with expiration of carbon dioxide. These are the bookends of a complex process, which happens for the most part involuntarily and continues until death brings the last breath. Alongside the physical workings of the body, in order for respiration to take place, there are a series of internal and external factors that play a part in keeping the cycle running.
Sometimes when the sentence ‘take in a deep breath’ is uttered the first thing many people do is to expand and raise their chest and narrow their waist, this is actually not a very useful thing as it actually constricts the intake of air. As the breath draws in the ribs expand laterally and forwards and backwards, a large dome shaped muscle called the diaphragm contracts and lowers/flattens. This expansion of the thorax enables a good supply of air to be inhaled. Think of the whole of the chest and belly filling with air like a balloon. On exhalation the abdominal muscles press the rib cage back to the original position as the diaphragm returns to its dome shaped position, expelling air out of the lungs. Good diaphragmatic breathing directs the breath lower in the body. Building up the breath support requires the correct use of the diaphragm and the muscles of inspiration and exhalation. Balancing the release of muscle tension for inhalation and the application of the support muscles on exhalation will create a well-controlled breath supply for speech.
One of the key differences in breathing for life and breathing for speech is an increase in pressure. More air is required to deliver a song or complete a long sentence than to not speak at all. The cycle of breathing differs in ratio during quiet respiration and breathing for speech. Co-ordinating the muscles of expiration, which includes the transverse abdominis (a belt of muscle around the waist) and the pelvic floor muscles, will help to increase the breath pressure and support the voice. This is the way to power the voice and increase volume.
The breathing mechanism can often be affected by certain emotional stimuli due to its connection with the autonomic system and the vital nerves that pass through and innervate the diaphragm. Emotions such as fear, anxiety and stress or poor postural habits can inhibit the natural breath flow and full diaphragmatic excursion leaving the body in an uptight held posture and a reduced, shallow breath. In this instance the voice suffers and becomes thin and possibly weak because the vital fuel, the breath, is restricted. It is not uncommon for many people to habitually maintain this state of breathing. Over a long term it becomes the normal state of behaviour and the individual copes by operating with reduced flow of air supply. Releasing the body of this unnecessary tension enables the life giving oxygen to fully nourish the body to enable the body to run at an optimal level. This is not only helpful for the voice but also for health and wellbeing. Releasing the breath allows the body to function better.
Ten Top Benefits of Correct Breathing
Breathly deeply allows the body to operate optimally as the natural movements of the body are unhindered. The whole process of breathing deeply allows the body to function more harmoniously. The effect is a calmer more efficient use of the body and mind with more energy and focus. Here are the top ten benefits of correct deep breathing:
1. Release tension and pain – In states of negative emotion such as anger, fear or stress the muscles of the body, especially the upper body, constrict and tighten. The breath becomes shallow and the whole body fails to get the right amount of oxygen it needs. When experiencing physical pain the breath can become held, this is effectively starving the body of oxygen. Breathing deeply can help to relieve pain as the mental focus and the nourishing breath help the body to feel better.
2. Relaxation, de-stress and gain mental clarity – breathing deeply dissipates stress hormones and promotes relaxation. As a result mental clarity is restored and a sense of calmness is restored.
3. Detox - 70% of toxins are released through the breath. On exhalation the body expels carbon dioxide, the natural waste product. If breathing is not placed correctly then other systems of the body have to compensate for the lack of expulsion. This puts pressure on the body and can lead to illness.
4. Strengthens the immune system – a good flow of oxygen into the bloodstream enriches the body to metabolise nutrients better. This in turn allows the body to absorb more vitamins to keep healthy and strong.
5. Improved use of the body – breathing deeply tends to encourage a better posture as the spine lengthens to allow the full rib swing movement. Poor breathing is often related to poor posture as well. Breathing deeply massages the organs; the lungs expand fully, the diaphragm bounces on the gut/viscera and all organs get more nourishing oxygen to function better. Correct breathing strengthens and tones abdominal muscles too. The crucial lymphatic system is driven by the breath so deep breathing helps to get the lymph fluid flowing well to rid the body of waste. Shallow breathing can make the lymphatic system sluggish. Deep breathing increases the cardiovascular capacity, improves blood circulation and improves digestion.
6. Boosts energy - As the body is working more effectively when the breath intake is good the result is more energy and an increased feeling of wellbeing.
7. Better sleep – A clear mind and a well-functioning body enables quality sleep.
8. Makes you happier – Good breath supply increases the neurochemical production in the brain releasing chemicals that elevate the mood.
9. Regulates weight – whether underweight or overweight deep breathing helps to regulate the body. If underweight the oxygen feeds the cells and tissues. If overweight the increase in oxygen and the resulting relaxed state helps to burn fat more efficiently.
10. Lengthens life – Deep breathing enables the body to operate at an optimal level. With a sound use of the body and mind life is longer.
This list is by no means exhausted. There are many more aspects of correct, deep breathing and the multitude of benefits it can bring. When the body and mind are in harmony the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual elements of the human being can function better. Improvements in behaviour, relationships and sexual enjoyment are inevitable.
Practice deep breathing daily to reap the benefits.