No one ever taught you how to breathe. It’s a natural thing. Your body is designed to perform this process automatically without monitoring and we usually don’t pay attention to it.
We breathe in and out without thinking. And most people don’t breathe properly. Sitting for so many hours a day shrinks the diaphragm and we breathe too shallow.
Many studies have shown the benefits of proper breathing for our physical and mental health. Even our eyes need oxygen to function well.
Walking is an exercise that you can combine with healthy breathing habits. And adopting healthy breathing habits help you to stay healthy. As we explained in this article, the immune system needs oxygen.
Oxygen is a source of fuel for our body
Humans can stay alive without food, water or sleep for over a week. We can only survive without oxygen for less than 10 minutes – and even that is dangerous for mental health.
Every cell of our body needs oxygen as fuel. Needless to say, breathing is a vital function of the human body. No digestion or cognition is happening without oxygen. It is central to everything from moving, sleeping, to mental clarity, immunity and stress reduction.
When we are not resting, when we are walking or exercising, the body demands more oxygen. What we ignore is that most of us use only around a third of our actual breathing capacity. So, we know how to breathe, but we have to learn how to breathe properly and efficiently.
Why Do We Have To Learn How To Breathe?
Our body is designed to be used, to move, to be active. By sitting slouched over computers or desks we don’t allow our lungs to work. Our spine should be straight and we have to have enough space for our belly, ribs and lungs to move. That is not usually the case.
We hold a lot of tension in our bellies. It can be something emotional, or a simple wish to look slimmer. Again, we don’t allow ourselves to breathe diaphragmatically.
When we are worried we breathe fast and shallow, mostly from the lungs, which is not a proper way to do it.
Breathing exercises will help you to:
– strengthen your lungs,
– bring more oxygen to all organs,
– regulate emotions and even panic attacks,
– detoxify the body,
– focus your mind,
– lower stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenalin
– deal with the pain, control anger and fear
Yogis claim that controlled breathing is a way to increase longevity. Actually, they say that the slower we breathe, the longer we live.
Walking will enhance your breathing and vice versa
We match the breathing according to the activity we perform. If we walk faster, our heart rate will increase, we’ll need more oxygen for our muscles and respiratory system.
The activity of our body reflects as well the depth of the breath. Aerobic activities like walking are a great workout for the heart and lungs. People with breathing problems could benefit from walking, but if you have a lung condition, you should consult your doctor or healthcare professional before starting any new breathing exercises.
Controlled breathing promotes relaxation
For centuries yogis have used pranayamas (prana-vital energy, Yama- control) to promote concentration and relaxation, to reduce stress and to improve vitality.
The key is to be conscious of your breathing. Paying attention to the breath itself will connect us with a present moment, and ensure you’re breathing deeply – which means you take in more oxygen.
Easy breathing exercises
If you find it hard to just meditate with your breath, to observe it as we explained, you will find the following techniques more interesting:
4-7-8 breathing technique (developed by Dr Andrew Weil)
This technique is based on pranayamas and it can boost the oxygen in organs and tissues. Also, it calms down the nervous system and its effective in sleep deprivation because it makes us focus on counting and breathing and not on worries or chatting of the mind.
How to do it?
Find a quiet place where no one will bother you. Sit or lie comfortably. Make sure your spine is erect. Gently place your tongue so that it is pressing against the back of your top teeth.
Exhale completely through your mouth making a whooshing sound.
Close your mouth and then inhale silently for a count of 4 through your nose.
Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
Exhale fully through your mouth for a count of 8, making an audible “whoosh” sound with the exhalation.
Do four circles, repeating all steps.
Pursed lip breathing
This exercise gives you more control over your breathing which is particularly important for people with lung conditions such as COPD. It is being used as a part of pulmonary rehabilitation because it helps the diaphragm work and increases the amount of oxygen entering the body.
How to do it?
Sit comfortably and straighten your spine. Relax the shoulders (away from the ears).
Inhale through the nose for two seconds. Feel the air move into the abdomen, more than your lungs.
Purse your lips like you’re blowing on hot food or through a straw and breathe out slowly. Make the breath out twice as long as the breath in.
Inhale-count to 2, exhale- count with pursed lips to 4.
Alternative breathing (Nadi-shodan pranayama)
Yogis would say this is queen pranayama since it calms down body and mind and it is suitable for everyone. You may practice alternative breathing anytime, anywhere.
How to do it?
Put your index and middle finger between the eyebrows and control the breathing with your right thumb and fourth finger.
Now, close the right nostril with the thumb of the right hand.
Breathe in through the left nostril.
Close the left nostril with the fourth finger and release the thumb.
Breathe out through the right nostril
Close the right nostril with the thumb and release the fourth finger
Breathe out through the left nostril.
Breathing Whilst Walking
Each of the exercises described moves old air (carbon dioxide) trapped in the lungs out and makes room for fresh oxygen. Next time you go for a walk, be aware of your inhalation and exhalations and try out some breathing exercises we outlined in this article for you.