It seems rather silly to tell a person to focus on their breathing. After all, it’s the one thing we are going to unconsciously do from the moment of birth until the day we die. You’re going to do it anyways. So of all the things you could possibly give your attention to, why breathing?
Let’s to go back to high school anatomy and physiology for a moment to briefly discuss the profound effect that deep breathing can have on your health. The short version is this: there are two states that the human nervous system can exist in. They are called the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
Long words, I know… but stay with me…..
The sympathetic nervous system is what we refer to as the “fight or flight” state. Its purpose is to get the body immediately prepared to manage a threat - by fighting or fleeing (flight). It spikes adrenaline, dilates pupils, raises blood pressure, sends blood to the extremities in preparation for handling opposition, heightens the senses, and it speeds up both the heartbeat and the breath. It is very useful - when you are in extreme danger - and that is what it is meant to protect you from.
We are only meant to use the sympathetic nervous system for 3%- 5% of the entirety of our lives.
The problem is that most people in the modern world live with this as their normal, ongoing state of being. Especially women. Their adrenaline is always high, their blood pressure is responding to stress, the internal organs aren’t getting as much blood as the extremities, etc. The long term, continuous activation of the sympathetic nervous system wreaks havoc on the body. It stores fat, increases stress, depletes the thyroid and adrenals, and disrupts our sleep.
The moral of this story: only use it when you need to.
Instead, what should the body be doing? In a healthy body, the parasympathetic nervous system will dominate. When the parasympathetic nervous system dominates, the body is in a state of calm. The blood pressure lowers, stress decreases, and the body no longer needs to store away extra fat.
The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems exist rather on a spectrum. Sympathetic functions keep us alive, so parts of them are activated all the time. (For instance, we need SOME blood pressure!) But long term heightened activation causes problems. How do we swing the pendulum the other way?
Go back to the top of this article: deep breathing. The lower part of the lungs activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Most people are very shallow breathers as a result of their ever activated sympathetic nervous system, so reaching the lower cavity of the lungs takes deliberate, conscious effort.
I realize that I just added one more thing to your to do list, which likely further activated your sympathetic nervous system, but follow me for just one more moment.
Here’s how to do this: take daily breathers. Start with 5 long, deep breaths, twice a day. Do it now. Yes - stop reading - I’ll wait.
See? Not hard.
Your health will thank you.