Jill Whittington writes about the importance of breathing for our mental health and personal resilience.
As our children are returning to school and many are also returning to the workplace, I sense there is a communal ‘deep breath’ being taken as we embark on a new normal for both.
Breathing is one of the most universal, habitual, and basic functions of the human body. A new-born baby takes its first breath within ten seconds of being born, and we don’t stop breathing until we die.
We take more than 23,000 breaths per day. And every single one of those breaths has an effect not just on the body but on the mind too.
Most of the time, we don’t even think about it. Our lungs allow us to breathe in air and provide much needed oxygen to the rest of the body. This is an amazing process that keeps us going every day!
Did you know?
- The average person breathes in the equivalent of 13 pints of air every minute.
- The lungs are the only organs in the human body to float on water.
- In 1243, the Arab physician Ibn al-Nafis became the first person ever to describe the breathing process.
- If the lungs were open flat, they would cover the entire size of a tennis court!
- Seventy percent of waste is eliminated through your lungs just by breathing.
- The breathing rate is faster in children and women than in men.
- Humans exhale up to 17.5 millilitres of water per hour.
- In human beings, the right lung is larger than the left lung to accommodate the heart.
Our brains are always reacting to situations based on our fight-or-flight mechanism, an inherent survival mechanism that protected us from fatal situations that occurred often in our more primitive days. In modern society, that mechanism still exists and our brains tend to apply it to the daily stresses of life that aren’t so life-threatening.
This can result in increased adrenalin levels and habitual shallow breathing which reinforces a stressed state, raising other stress hormones in an ever decreasing spiral which can become difficult to overcome and without intervention can lead to chronic fatigue, depression, and disease.
There is however good news!
Breathing is the only autonomous system of the body that we can control. This means that the body governs it, but we can change how we breathe through conscious breathing
Breathing exercises have long been at the heart of many health and healing practices and have numerous positive effects.
For Joseph Pilates, the exercises that changed his life took shape on the straw mat of a prison camp. The German-born part-time boxer and circus performer was living in Great Britain. When World War 1 started he was sent to an internment camp on the Isle of Man where tens of thousands of suspected “enemy aliens” were kept throughout the war.
Pilates observed the cats constantly stretching and limbering up, and used that to inspire and refine the poses of his own exercise system so he developed his series of exercises emphasising full diaphragmatic breathing with a range of motions at our joints emphasizing core stability.” Pilates would later boast that when the 1918 flu pandemic — which killed approximately 50 million people worldwide — hit the camp, none of the men practicing his exercises got sick
Our breath is an indicator of our mood and our mood is an indicator of our breath. This means that if we change how we breathe we can change our mood. It also means that when our mood changes so does our breath.
The benefits of deep breathing include:
- Reduce stress
- Lower blood pressure
- Increase our lung capacity for oxygen
- Increases cardiovascular capacity (and in the long term help prevent heart disease.)
- Detoxifies the body
- Relieves pain
- Makes us happier
- Improves posture
- Stimulates the lymphatic system
- Gives us energy
- Improves our digestion
- Strengthens major organs of the body
- Helps to regulate weight
Quite simply deep breathing improves overall health and lowers our chances of sickness or disease. It costs nothing, is readily available and takes extraordinarily little effort.
That’s why step 1 of Mind Chi is one minute of deep breathing to instil the practice of deep breathing as a daily habit, just like cleaning your teeth and eating breakfast.
So as we collectively take that ‘deep breath’ on the return to school why don’t we also learn how to create new habits which support both us and our families to take these next vital steps back to a new normal.