Take a deep breath, relax……….., let’s talk about breathing. This subject is so important, so essential, we are going to spend two or three weeks covering it in full. This week we are going to look at why proper breathing is so important (other than staying alive).
I start each class with 7- 10 minutes of deep breathing. It is probably the most important part of the hour I teach. I watch some students “phone it in” not concentrating on their breathing but wanting to get on to the “important stuff”, not realizing they are missing the most important skill I can teach them. In fact, when I teach in nursing homes or adult day care as I do every week, I increase the breathing to 10 – 15 minutes.
One of my students at a nursing home was in a terrible accident. Her whole left side was paralyzed, with little hope of recovering. I had been teaching at this home for three almost four months. When I came in one afternoon she motioned me over. She told me her daughter and son had both dropped by at separate times to see her the past week. They both noticed that she seemed to be breathing better. She said until they said something she hadn’t realized it but she was no longer struggling to breath. Ever since her accident she was having to struggle for every breath. She told me, with tears in her eyes, it was because of my teaching her Tai Chi and the breathing exercises that she was able to easily breathe. It brought tears to my eyes. It also reinforced the importance of deep breathing.
We can live for weeks with out food. We can live for days without water. We can only live for a few minutes without breathing. Which one do you think is more important? Which one do you think deserves the most attention? Remember Qi is the Chinese word for our life force, life energy. Did you know the Chinese word for inhale is Xi qi, exhale is Hu qi. Do you see something in common here? Qi - the life force, is contained in both breathing in and breathing out. Breath is life. CPR is known as “the breath of life”. If breathing is so important why shouldn’t we spend more time on it?
It goes even deeper than just breathing (pun intended). Most people don’t breath right. Most people breath upside down. They don’t use all of their lungs. When baby’s are born their lungs are the last thing to develop. So when a baby is born it has to use all of it’s lungs to breathe. When a little baby breathes it’s little stomach puffs out, when it breaths out, it’s stomach contracts. Pediatricians measure the respiratory rate of babies by observing the movement of their belly. The Chinese call deep breathing “breathing like a baby”. Next week, we will get into the how of deep breathing, Suffice it to say, when you are breathing properly your belly should be moving like a baby. Also, later on, we will be talking about doing meditation. Think of meditation as using deep breathing as an art. Steady, focused, deep breathing is meditation.
Health Reasons to Deep Breathe:
This is one of the things people discover first. When they do deep breathing, their body starts to relax. You take your body out of the “fight or flight” and put it into “rest and relaxation”. This happens because when to deep breath (people of the west call it diaphragmatic breathing) your diaphragm as it moves up and down stimulates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the nerve that comes from the brain and controls the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your relaxation response. When we relax our response to stress lessens. Which leads to –
Deep breathing boosts our immune system. Stress is a horrible thing for our body. It takes up a lot of energy and wears our body down. It is said that most (80%) of the visits to Doctors offices originate from stress. Deep breathing will reduce our stress. When our stress level goes down our immune system gets stronger. One study showed that 10 minutes of deep breathing every day for 8 weeks showed a significant boost in the participants immune system. I have noticed this when I started doing Tai Chi. As I did more and more of Tai Chi I would get sick less and less. Go back to last weeks blog and listen to Dr Lam’s description of how Tai Chi boosted his immune system.
If you want to sleep better or have trouble falling asleep, try to deep breathe. If you have had a bad day or are feeling anxious or nervous, try to do some deep breathing before you go to bed. Plan on trying 10 minutes to start, you may find you need to do more than 10 minutes if you are having a hard time calming down. If you wake up in the middle of the night and find it hard to go back to sleep, practice deep breathing.
The human body is designed to discharge 70% of it’s toxins through breathing. 70%!!! That is more than sweating, urinating or defecating combined! This is an amazing statistic. If you are not breathing properly, your body is not able to rid itself of it’s toxins properly. If you are constantly shallow breathing ,you are poisoning your body. One study suggests that shallow breathing causes your heart to work harder thereby increasing your chances of heart problems. One study of 153 heart attack patients found that ALL of them were shallow breathers. Another small study found that heart attack patients that were taught to deep breath didn’t have a re-occurrence of a heart attack in two years. In the group that didn’t deep breath 7 of the 12 of them had a repeat attack within two years.
Your brain uses 20% of the oxygen your body takes in. Do you want to think clearer – breathe better. One of my students started to deep breath every morning found his mind was clearer during the day. Recent studies have shown that meditation (deep breathing at it’s best) lights up the same centers of the brain that exercising does. A 2016 study showed a correlation between breathing and the brain’s emotional state. Slow, controlled breathing decreases activity in the circuit which in turn influences the emotional state of the brain. Deep breathing also helps us focus better.
It is amazing to watch my Parkinson friends and the effect deep breathing has on them, especially when they go into deep meditative breathing. Over and over I see tremors lessen or disappear when they get into a deep breathing mode. One of my students came into class with significant Dyskinesia. We went through our breathing exercises and then the warm up exercises (concentrating on breathing when doing them). The combination of those two elements took about 20 minutes (can you say 20 in 2020). His Dyskinesia was gone, vanished! The other thing I noticed is how much calmer he looked. The tension was also gone. If you want to see the most dramatic demonstration of meditation go to the media page on my site and watch what happens when this amazing lady with Parkinson’s Disease does meditation. By the way this is only the third time she has ever meditated.
Cancer hates oxygen. Cancer likes an anaerobic environment to thrive. If you have cancer and you want to beat it, one of the tools you can use is to do aerobic exercises and practice deep breathing. Applying deep breathing has been shown to help you not get cancer in the first place (there is not as much research on this subject, one reason it being very hard to study). One amazing study done in Beijing had 170 patients. They had one group that used Qigong with Cancer drugs, the other used drugs only. Look at these results:
Measured Effect Qigong Group Drugs Only
Improved Liver Function 20.62% 6.67%
Erythrocyte (1 measure of immune) 23.71% 10%
Phagocytosis (more is better) +12.31% -7.87%
Regained Strength 81.7% 10%
Improved Appetite 63% 10%
Free of Irregular Defecation 33.3% 6%
Doing deep breathing increases the oxygen saturation of your body (that little thing they put on the end of your finger in the Dr office or ER). Remember the body needs oxygen to function. It only makes sense that if you give it more oxygen it will function better.
The real power of Tai Chi comes from combining it with deep breathing. Once you have learned a Tai Chi form and are able to do them smoothly, begin to incorporate deep breathing into the form. This is why you hear Tai Chi referred to as “moving meditation”. When you reach the state of knowing the moves well and are able to effectively breathing into the form, you will find this serenity also.
Other Health Benefits:
Improves Symptoms of Depression
Improves Symptoms of OCD
Improves Symptoms of IBS
Improves Symptoms of PTSD
Improves Lung Function
Your challenge this week is to breathe. Yup, that’s it! Just breathe... you’ve been doing that for a little while now. Well, maybe a little more….. Try to deep breathe. Next week we will go into the how of deep breathing. For this week practice doing relaxed deep breathing. Remember your belly should expand as you breathe in and should contract as you breath out. Don’t try to force anything. Your breathing should be relaxed and gentle. Try to spend at least 10 minutes each day doing deep breathing, making it part of your 20 in 2020 commitment. Also, look for those small moments to take just a few deep breaths. While you are standing in line, sitting at a stop light, on hold on the phone, waiting for your Tai Chi teacher to start. Breathe relaxed breaths. As Faith Hill says “Just Breathe”.