Focus on Breathing Techniques to Improve Your Health

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By LATINA EMERSON, Special to The Weekly

Breathing is essential to life, but how we breathe can also affect our health. Breathing techniques, known as breathwork, can help to calm the body and mind, relieve stress and move us out of fight-or-flight mode, according to experts at Cleveland Clinic.

An unhealthy, unbalanced lifestyle will begin to show up in the body as high blood pressure, digestive issues, muscle tension, headaches, anxiety and more, said Ute Anonsen, a massage therapist and breathwork facilitator and the owner of True Balance Center for Breath and Bodywork in Newnan.

Breathing has become an increasingly popular solution for anxiety and depression, relaxation, better sleep and even overcoming past or recent traumas because “breathing is one of our essential forms of energy intake, next to water and food,” Anonsen explained.

“Although ancient civilizations recognized the importance of the breath and proper breathing techniques many millennia ago, only recently have modern scientists examined the benefits of breathing and the effects on our health,” Anonsen said. “Now we learn that the way we breathe is directly linked to the chemical processes in our cells by influencing the blood pH. Some scientists are raising the question if the way we breathe contributes to illnesses like depression, diabetes, low immune response, obesity and more.”

More research is needed to “better understand how breathing can tip the scale from illness to wellness and vice versa, but most of us can experience a significant improvement just by applying a few simple daily breathing exercises,” Anonsen said.

Many of the benefits of regular breathing exercises are felt on an emotional and mental level, and deep breathing techniques can lessen anxiety and reduce the volatility of anger, she added.

Fight or Flight

It’s important to understand the relationship between breathing and the nervous system. A very primal response of our body to stressful situations is to hold our breath or to breathe in a very shallow and fast manner. Our heart rate increases, energy resources are delivered to our peripheral muscle groups and simultaneously, the digestive system is put on hold, Anonsen explained.

This is a healthy response of our nervous system called “fight or flight response” and should only last a short period of time, she said.

Running from a predator, like our ancestors in the past, or dealing with deadlines, traffic, child care or relationship trouble is all the same to our nervous system and the response is the same. Sadly, many people have forgotten how to relax and trigger our parasympathetic nervous system, the other branch of our autonomic nervous system, also known as the “rest and digest” response. Fortunately, there’s an antidote, Anonsen said.

“Spending time in nature, mindful exercises, meditation and spending time with friends can trigger a completely different response: you’re exhaling instead of holding your breath, your breathing is deep and slow as opposed to fast and shallow, your pupils widen, your heart rate slows down and your digestion is active,” Anonsen said. “No matter what level of stress you are experiencing, how old or young you are, or if your lifestyle is more sedentary or very active, learning how to breathe in a healthy manner is the first step to better health, physically, emotionally and mentally.”

Breathwork Techniques

There’s a variety of breathwork techniques that people can try, according to Cleveland Clinic. Here are a few:

Diaphragmatic breathing: This type of breathing, also known as abdominal breathing or belly breathing, engages the diaphragm, a powerful muscle at the base of your lungs. This technique “has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate, and it’s especially beneficial for people with lung conditions,” Cleveland Clinic reports.

This is a good technique for people new to breathwork, and it’s an effective way to relax and relieve stress, according to Cleveland Clinic.

Box breathing: This is one of the “simplest and most common forms of yogic deep breathing,” Cleveland Clinic explains. This technique has four steps: “Four counts of breathing in, four counts of holding your breath, four counts of exhaling and four more counts of holding after your exhale. Box breathing can be practiced anytime,” said Cleveland Clinic experts.

4-7-8 breathing: This breathing technique can be done while sitting or lying down. “The numbers refer to how long you inhale (four counts), hold (seven counts) and exhale (eight counts),” according to Cleveland Clinic. It’s been shown to help someone “get a good night’s sleep by calming the mind, reducing anxiety and decreasing heart rate and blood pressure,” Cleveland Clinic experts explain.

About True Balance Center for Breath and Bodywork

True Balance Center for Breath and Bodywork at 48 East Washington St. in Newnan offers massage therapy, acupuncture, biomagnetic pair therapy, ionic foot detox, lymphatic drainage, integrative breathwork and breath coaching, energy healing, yoga, movement, and meditation. Learn more at https://www.truebalanceofnewnan.com/ or call 678-857-3484.

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