Correct breathing is vital for a well-functioning constitution. When we breathe, we not only inhale vital life-supporting oxygen to feed every cell in our body, but through exhaling, we expel waste products in the form of carbon dioxide. Through this process the body removes acidic compounds that accumulate in the blood, and by doing so endeavours to maintain the optimal environment to keep our motor running – an alkaline state.
So why is it important to maintain an alkaline environment? An acidic blood pH reduces the cells ability to function, leading to all manner of mayhem such as an increased tendency to poor health and low energy levels. However, by deep breathing you’re alkalising the blood and preventing that and other fluids becoming too acidic.
How deep we breathe also affects our autonomic nervous system, specifically our fight or flight mode and relaxation responses – known as the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems respectively. Deep breathing, such as abdominal, belly or diaphragmatic breathing, occurs deep in the abdomen rather than merely up and down from the chest. This style of breathing is the most effective in activating the parasympathetic system and hence the key to inducing a relaxation response. Deep slow breaths increase oxygen saturation in cells and is best for overall health.
It’s little wonder that breath work used in conjunction with mind body activities, is an ideal stress buster and supports the immense benefits gained from these types of activities. Specifically, practices such as Pranayama (breathing exercises), can either be used as a stand-alone activity or as an integral part of a yoga practice. In a vinyasa style of yoga, which is based on breath-synchronised poses, the emphasis is on the Ujjayi breath and is used to link breath to movement, allowing us to centre and gain control over our movement. The same occurs in qi gong and tai chi where breath is likened to the gathering, storing and delivering of energy through movements.
Pilates in particular focuses on lateral breathing, which emphasises the expansion of the rib cage from the sides and towards the back, and all the way down the spine into the pelvic bowl. This style of breathing allows the abdominals to contract, and in turn supports and protects the spine throughout the exercise.
The quality of the air you breath makes all the difference – fresh is always best. Stale air, the air in an enclosed area, has lower oxygen content therefore supplies less than your body needs, hence the health problems – frequent colds, headaches, fatigue etc. Whenever possible head to a park or garden and surround yourself with plenty of trees and plants, or breathe in seaside salty air for maximum benefits.