Breathing is an involuntary activity that we often fail to pay attention to. When we think about taking care of our health, maintaining a healthy diet and exercising are the two things that often take the centre stage. But despite breathing being so central to our survival, and such a continuous process, it is almost surprising how we often overlook its benefits. However, have you ever realised, all different forms of exercising often go back to how well we breathe?
Breathing correctly and effectively does not only help our body but also helps our mind. A growing number of studies suggest that breathing techniques are effective against anxiety and insomnia. But this realisation is not new.
The Tao religion of China and Hinduism were the first to realise the importance of effective breathing. The Tao religion understands breathing as a manifestation of a “vital principle” that flows through the body, in the form of energy. They call it "qi". While the Hindus call it prana.
The Hindus were also the first ones to build a theory around controlled breathing as a way to increase longevity. This is the theory that forms the basis of the doctrine more famously known as Pranayama (“breath retention”).
In more recent times, Dr Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist at Stanford University has also conducted extensive research on the matter of breathing. He believes breathwork is becoming a discipline in its own right. According to him, “breathwork can be thought of as exercise" and had immense and immediate benefits — "physical, emotional and cognitive”.
He has also researched how stress is linked to our vision and breathing, and how sight can immediately alter our breathing as a response. Our lungs consist of tons of tiny little sacs of air—millions of sacs of air. When talking about how breathing patterns work to reduce stress he says, "our lungs consist of tons of tiny little sacs of air—millions of sacs of air. As we get stressed, these little sacs collapse. They deflate like a balloon."
The Bridge Chronicle talk to Dr Vishal More to understand the importance of breathing correctly better. Dr Vishal More is a Pulmonologist at Apollo Clinic, Pune
Understand breathing independently as the process of inhaling (the process of taking in air) and exhaling (process of removing air). When we inhale we take in oxygen. This oxygen, he explains is food for all our organs and tissues. When we breathe we bring in the food of these organs and which is later supplied to them. But if the process of breathing is not happening correctly, the organs will not get enough food, and hence not function properly. He cites the example of malfunctioning in the liver or an increase in blood sugar levels. Even the brain refuses to function properly if enough oxygen is not provided.
Similarly, the process of exhaling is also equally important. When we exhale, we throw out waste gasses from the body. If this process is not done properly, there is an increase in the toxic substances in the body which impacts the organs.
The correct way of breathing
When it comes to breathing, it might feel like there is no correct way. Because it is a continuous process. But Dr Vishal More suggests that it is essential to practice diaphragmatic breathing to ensure our lungs are used to their maximum capacity.
Sit crossed leg on the floor with a straight back. Relax your shoulders and tilt your head and next backwards. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your diaphragm. Begin by slowly inhaling to your lungs capacity.
While exhaling, pout your lips and release air slowly. The process of exhalation should last 10 to 15 seconds.
This form of breathing he says expands your lungs, and also works to build their strength.
Endurance, Strength, Flexibility and Balance — the core of fitness and how does breathing help?
Dr More explains endurance, strength, flexibility and balance and psychological support are four pillars of good health. Though supported by long enough history, this area is still gaining attention. But this is also why all forms of exercises are essentially based on breathing. Especially yoga focuses on building the four pillars while focusing on breathing. Even chanting and meditation, considered to be good for health, are focused on breathing.
As mentioned earlier, the better you breathe the more food is provided to your organs. This helps in maintaining organ and tissue health, which overall improves our health.
He also talks about Pulmonary Rehabilitation - a set of scientific exercises devised for repairing lungs. These exercises focus on improving breathing and also strengthening upper and lower limb muscles that can support and promote better breathing. He cites the example of strengthening hands, neck, shoulder and throat muscles which promote healthy breathing. These are often overlooked, and only utilised when we are out of breath or finding it hard to breathe.
Pre and Post Covid Care
"Our lungs have been functioning since our first breath and will continue to function until our last breath. But we often take our lungs for granted," says Dr More. "We ignore our lungs until it actually starts affecting our daily life like coughing. But Covid has taught us that lungs are very important," he adds.
Talking about pre and post-Covid care, the doctor suggests that we should ensure good health of our lungs, especially after Covid, because the virus directly affects our lungs. "Ensuring correct breathing patterns and techniques, routine activities, along with aerobic exercises, is essential," he says.
"Carefully curating your diet to make it antioxidants rich is also another way to care for your lungs," the doctor says.
It is understood, that the core of better health, lies in better breathing. Since it is the most natural style of exercising, we must learn to breathe correctly. Additionally, sparing time in the day to dedicatedly breathing is also important to ensure the healthy functioning of all organs.