The Importance of Breathing in this Modern World
Written by: Dr. Hoon C Kim, Acupuncturist and Human Touch Wellness Council Member
Image by: Henri Pham
No matter how much I emphasize the importance of breathing, it won’t be enough. Breathing is the base of our bodily engine system and enables us to live. Therefore, most people think they know how to breathe and it is then easily neglected, but here I want you to know of the right way of breathing, and the benefit of it.
In Chinese, the air is called kong qi – which is a spatial energy or energy from the space. Ancient Chinese must have known the importance of breathing; breathing is absorbing the vital energy from the universe.
There are plenty of books and articles of lower chakra, or Dan Tian breathing in Indian yogic practice and qigong; both put an enormous emphasis on abdominal breathing, or deep breathing.
Look at a baby or your dogs. How do they breathe? They breathe deep and comfortable with stomach region, and it seems so natural and easy.
Then why do most people forget this breathing, which we once all did?
As we grow old with stresses - anger, frustration, fear or anxiety- we became a shallow chest breather because of fight-or-flight response, which depends on chest breathing for quick, short bursts of oxygen. Eventually the body gets used to this shallow breathing.
What is this stress?
This type of stress is an animal instinct of fight or flight response, and acts as a self-defense system.
Under this type of stress, your body will need more energy so that heart beats will become faster and your breathing also will become faster and shorter to supply more blood to the muscles of limbs, and not the brain and digestive system. Therefore this stress can cause you to have headaches, stomachaches, muscle pain, sleep disorders, fatigue and so on.
So now imagine you have a body that perceives itself to be in stress all the time… your body will need that short breathing and sometime later your body will keep that breathing pattern, and this activates the body’s stress response system unnecessarily, emitting stress-related hormones.
How to evaluate your stress level:
1. Your head feels heavy and cloudy, and you get tired frequently
2. You get dizzy frequently
3. You have stiffness and pain in the neck
4. Your tongue has more white coating on it than usual
5. You have indigestion such as bloating, gas, belching and so on
6. Shoulders feel heavy, and you have tension with upper back and knee pain
7. When you get up in the morning, you still feel tired and heavy so your day starts sluggish
8. It is hard to focus on the work
9. It is hard to fall asleep
10. You have heart palpitations and cold extremities
11. You tend to avoid social meetings and a crowd of people
Serious: 7+ (Necessitates a change in your lifestyle)
How to remove stress by changing your breathing pattern:
1. First take two-three deep breaths, exhaling fully through the mouth. Then slowly breathe in while expanding your lower abdomen to the count of 4. Then slowly breathe out while contracting your lower abdomen to the count of 4. Focus on breathing rhythmically and try not to move your chest.
2. Inhale through your nose to a count of 4 and exhale either through your mouth or the nose to a count of 4 and then pause for a count of 2.
As you become more comfortable with this breathing, you can increase the length of time of inhalation, exhalation and the pauses between them.
Practice this breathing for 10-15 minutes twice a day in the morning after you wake up, and in the evening before you go to bed and also at any time during the day (except immediately after meals). Though simple, if practiced regularly, this exercise can greatly benefit the health of your mind and body.
Bernadette Johnson, Director of the Integrative Medicine Program at Greenwich hospital, also offers these four easy steps to break the stress cycle:
1. Stop what you’re doing.
2. Breathe using your stomach (abdominal breathing) for a few deep breaths, allowing your gut to expand with air. Do not breathe using the chest, which most of us do normally. Count 1 to 4 while inhaling, then count down from 4 to 1. You should inhale through the nose and exhale from the mouth, but you can do whatever is comfortable.
3. Think about the cause of your stress, deliberating its importance in the scheme of things. For example, a computer crashes and you get angry. Clearly, seething won’t change or resolve the situation.
4. Rectify the problem with a viable solution.