Breathing: A Fundamental Tool For Maintaining Health
An Interview with Laurie Ellis-Young, Co-Founder of BreathLogic.org
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is looking for practical how-to steps that they can take to help keep their families safe. They are hungry for no-cost preventive health actions that can boost their immunity. They want to be informed and empowered by natural health approaches that can assist them in getting through this crisis. There is one always-accessible practice that everyone can do daily to assuage anxiety, build immunity, sleep better and maintain healthy respiratory functioning. What is it? Proper breathing!
Briefly, how is proper breathing the most fundamental step for maintaining good health?
An important question for the times we are in right now with the coronavirus! Proper breathing is fundamental because Breath is Life and the quality of our lives is directly impacted by the quality of our breath. With the coronavirus affecting our lungs, and fear & anxiety disturbing our mental and emotional well-being, it’s essential that we strengthen our lungs and immune systems, while also consciously calming our minds, and soothing our emotions. And we can do this all through our breath.
The most basic ways are by learning to breathe in two words: Low and Slow.
In order to remain healthy during this threat it is, of course, ideal to have the highest nutrition in the food we eat. But going a step deeper is utilizing the nutrition or medicinal aspects of our breath: the oxygen in our breath that powers our brain, helps purify our blood and feeds every cell in our body.
To really experience the power of this, it's ideal to be proactive in regulating our breathing and not reactive to stress.
How can deep breathing balance out the high anxiety we’re experiencing today?
Let’s look at the fact that our respiratory system is the only system in our bodies that is conscious and unconscious. When we are breathing unconsciously our brain changes our breath. When we breathe consciously our breath changes our brain. When we are in a state of fear and high anxiety we're either holding our breath or breathing very shallowly in our upper chest.
With this manner of shallow breathing, our brain activates the sympathetic nervous system's "fight or flight” mode. This shuts down our body’s means of maintaining well-being -- rest and digest, heal and regenerate -- thus severely weakening our immune systems.
So how can our breath change our brains? By the conscious act of engaging our diaphragm. By breathing low into the belly, our parasympathetic nervous system becomes dominant and we halt the chronic stress momentum with all of its dangers to our health.
When our brain senses threat, it propels us into a stance of "fight or flight”. If experienced long term, this state becomes chronic stress and we find ourselves holding our breath or breathing very shallowly in our upper chest. This can have negative and even disastrous effects on our immune systems.
Fortunately, conscious control of our breathing can change our brains. By breathing low and slow, our breath sends the message to our brain that we are safe and our bodies can continue focusing on homeostasis, balance and well-being.
Can you share some techniques for breathing low and slow and also for sleeping better?
Absolutely! First we need to just bring awareness to our breathing, to pause, and know whether we are inhaling or exhaling – and where we physically feel this in our bodies. Just this awareness helps to deepen our breath and is a master practice.
As for breathing low, one of the easiest and most beneficial ways is to engage in deep belly laughter. The coronavirus is nothing to laugh at, but actually one of the most positive things we can do is laugh. Therefore the saying: Laughter is the best medicine! Laughter engages our diaphragms and moves our breath into our bellies, increases oxygen to the brain, strengthens heart rate variability, releases beneficial endorphins and it feels so good.
Another more calm technique is to focus on the exhalation, since we have more control over our exhales than inhales. The inhale is through the nose and the exhale can be through the nose or mouth. Put your hands on your belly, if possible, and as you exhale, contract your belly straight into your spine. Let your inhale be a natural, relaxed expansion of your belly. Practice this lying down, sitting, standing - any position, as often as possible, whenever you think of it. In fact, practice so much that it becomes your natural way of breathing!
Then to slow your breath, whatever your regular inhale is, double the length during the exhale. For example, if you naturally inhale to account of two, exhale to a count of four. Soon you’ll find your lung capacity improving so that comfortably you can increase your counts. The key is comfortably. Normally we breathe 10 to 18 times per minute. This practice is called the Relaxation Breath, because it stimulates the vagus nerve, and practicing will soon bring you to a place where you can comfortably breathe a Coherent Breath, which is about six breaths a minute. This will calm your brain and all of your body systems.
Is there a further technique for breathing slow?
Yes another powerful technique is inhaling through the nose and humming on the exhalation, any sound, holding it as long as you can and then savoring the deeper inhalation that results. The longer exhale and the reverberations of the vocal cords stimulate the vagus nerve and a relaxation response in the body results.
All of these techniques will help you sleep better. If you wake up in the middle of the night worrying, don’t count sheep, count your breaths and breathe in your belly!
As we know, the best line of defense against any virus or illness is to strengthen your immune system.
Yes, fear is the #1 cause of elevated cortisol levels, the stress hormone, and high cortisol can crash your immunity.
The current virus going around the globe causes severe respiratory distress, so we all need to learn to do the best we can to care for our lungs by first and foremost safeguarding our immunity.
There are so many changes happening day to day it feels like the ground is shifting beneath our very feet. A lot of people are feeling disempowered as a result.
We are never without power and centering in our breath is THE place to start feeling the expansive energy of being empowered again. We need to 'tap the powerful practice of coming home to our breath’. Then your breath becomes your sanctuary
Don’t you think it would be helpful if families did a few breathing practices together at home, maybe morning and evening?
Absolutely! BreathLogic teaches parents how to do several with their children, like Breathing Buddies, Breathing Ball and Blowing Bubbles.
In summation, these breathing practices, when done consistently, really can change our lives, correct?
Yes, the rhythm of our breath can literally be a life-saver in lessening panic and fear, in strengthening our physical immunity and in oxygenating our cells.
Our breath fills our bodies as well as our spirits with the energy and vitality of life itself.
And we can each easily learn to strengthen the capacity of our breathing to enrich all aspects of our lives.
Minneapolis-based non-profit BreathLogic offers free breathing tutorials that can help strengthen lungs, alleviate anxiety and boost immunity: