The air outside swirls and blows and whispers all around us, the only clue to its existence is its effects: a leaf doing somersaults across the grass; a curtain gently waving back and forth against an open window. Air is everywhere. We realize the incredible significance of air after holding our breath underwater, surfacing with a gasp to drink in the deliciousness of it.
In and out. Our lungs work automatically to keep our cells alive.
Breathing is often overlooked as one of the most important components to keeping the body fit and toned.
Though the air we breathe is only about 21 percent oxygen, we need it for the oxidation of food, which provides energy to every part of the body. It moves from the lungs, where the bloodstream becomes saturated with it, directly to the heart and then the rest of the body to invigorate every cell.
The brain alone utilizes about a fifth of the oxygen consumed, in order to metabolize glucose for its fuel.
After breathing in, air is exhaled, releasing the unused oxygen and other gases and moisture left over from the metabolic processes. Fresh air in, bad air out. Sounds simple, but in our stressful society, it’s oxygen that completes the complicated metabolic process. Oxygen becomes the hero in combating toxic buildups and creating a relaxed state over an emotional one.
Take toxic stress for example. The environment holds many chemical compounds such as the pesticides, herbicides, fungicides; smog with its load of carbon monoxide and ozone; and preservatives such as nitrates, nitrites and benzoates. These unhealthy chemicals cause a need for cellular detoxification – in other words, flooding the body with oxygen so the cells can move the bad stuff out.
When you’re emotionally stressed, certain glands trigger the production of adrenaline – good in times of danger, bad for everyday living. Taking deep breaths stops the “fight or flight” response and brings the body back into balance. It is deep breathing that helps build a better core by working the abdominal muscles and keeping our blood filled with oxygen, which also improves the complexion, relieves aches and pains, and minimizes the effects of aging.
It’s a fact that most people do not breathe properly, taking short shallow breaths that have become an unhealthy habit due to living in a congested, fast-paced environment. Stress causes the body to tense which in turn causes the muscles around the ribs to tighten and keep the lungs from fully expanding.
Short breaths cause tension while deep breaths relax the body. Exercise is one way to deepen breathing, by making the lungs expand more to bring in more oxygenated air. Swimming teaches the body breath control and provides a nice rhythmic cadence to breathing. Both pilates and yoga focus on breathing with body movements. Go for a brisk walk, ride a bike, run in the park, dance your heart out so your breathing becomes fuller and the lungs can stretch and fill with more air.
But most importantly, by teaching the lungs to breath deeply, you can gain an easy to do, instant relaxation technique to utilize any time and anywhere. Take a couple of minutes each day to sit still and focus on your breath. Sit up straight in a chair, stomach pulled in but relaxed, and close your eyes, take in a deep breath slowly, expanding not only your lungs, but your diaphragm below your ribs, pacing yourself to a count of seven, then hold to a count of three, then exhale slowly, once again pacing yourself to a count of seven.
Do this cycle three times at first, then work up to 10 (or however many you feel necessary to create that peaceful body). Don’t be surprised to find yourself yawning after the first couple of deep breathsI t’s only the body signaling you that it’s relaxing and releasing tension.
Use this technique any time of day to release the buildup of tension, even if its just one or two deep breaths while standing in line or sitting in traffic.
Remember, the body can go without food for weeks, and water for a few days, but can go without air for only a couple of minutes. So pay attention to your breathing. Give thanks to the abundance of air around you. And, once in a while, close your eyes and just breathe.