Inhale and Exhale – How Breathing Can Change Your Life
What is the most important thing that we’re not thinking about? Breathing. It’s such an easy concept. The average person takes 23,000 breaths a day. That’s in excess of 8,400,000 breaths a year. It’s automatic. We do it subconsciously. It’s the first thing we do when we’re born and it’s the last thing we do before we die. It’s not something that we naturally think about. But… maybe we should?
How is it that a function as vital as breathing be so overlooked? As humans, we have many wants. Many desires. We really only have a few needs: food, water, sleep and oxygen. So much emphasis is placed on the first three. I’m hungry – I’ll eat. I’m thirsty – I’ll drink. I’m tired – I’ll sleep. But when was the last time you reminded yourself that you needed a good breath?
The truth is this. The average person can go for weeks without food and days without sleep or water. The average person can only go for minutes without oxygen.
The Importance of Breathing
Without getting too scientific, breathing serves major vital functions:
- It supplies our bloodstream with oxygen which is then delivered to the brain. The brain uses a large amount of oxygen in order to operate optimally and to regulate other major functions of the body. Simply put. You want your brain to operate properly.
- It supplies our bloodstream with oxygen which is then delivered to the heart. The heart requires an adequate amount of oxygen to pump blood effectively. Oxygen deprivation leads to poor circulation. Simply put. You want your heart to function optimally.
- It expels waste and toxins from the body.
Remember, these are “vital” functions meaning that they are of the utmost importance. They are life-sustaining. Yet, the average person never stops to think about how they can optimize their breathing. Surely you’ve spent money on food, water and even sleep. Breathing is free. Why not take advantage of that?
Optimal breathing can be as simple as being mindful and aware. Aware of your breathing habits, both good and bad. Here are four habits to be mindful of:
- Rapidity of Your Breath – a long(er) inhalation will supply your body with an adequate amount of oxygen. A long(er) exhalation will expel more toxins.
- Nose or Mouth Breathing – by breathing through your mouth you are depriving yourself of a natural filtration system provided by breathing through the nose. Without grossing you out, there are mechanisms through your nasal channel designed to keep out pollutants.
- Posture – a nice, upright posture is not only good for your self-confidence, but also for optimal breathing. When you are slouched or hunched over, you contract your lungs and therefore its capacity.
- Holding Your Breath – consciously or subconsciously, it is a tendency for people to hold their breath when they are under stressful situations or when they are concentrating (think about that guy at the gym who turns beet red while squeezing out one last rep). Don’t do it. It’s counterproductive.
The Importance of Breathing in My Life
Having just stressed the importance of optimal breathing, it may come to your surprise that I’m not going to mention any of the above-mentioned reasons when I talk about its importance in my life.
The man that I am today bares little similarity to the man that I was five years ago. Historically, I’ve always had a high-intensity, short-fused, impatient and argumentative personality. Today, self-admittedly, I still have that high-intensity personality but with a calm, cool and collected demeanor. The high-intensity is driven by passion (more on this in another blog). As mentioned in a previous blog, my life is a whirlwind but I am able to manage it while being (relatively) stress-free (someone else may tell you otherwise but this is the way that I perceive my life).
And no. This is not pre-disposed character. This is learned. This is programmed. This is enabled by breathing.
Better Relationships Are a Deep Breath Away
Pay attention here. Many of you stand to benefit from reading this. Breathing has enabled me to strengthen my relationships. I’m sure you’ve often heard the expression “take a deep breath”. In situations where I sense that a conversation is about to turn sideways, I figuratively draw in a deep breath before I allow words to escape my mouth. This affords me the time that I need to gather my thoughts and helps me avoid the “say the first thing that comes to mind” syndrome. If you tell me that you haven’t, in the past, said something that you’ve come to regret as a result of this syndrome, you’re lying. It happens. That’s just human nature.
Whether it’s a result of this single deep breath at the brink of an argument or years of practicing optimal breathing, I know that my breathing has saved me from many senseless arguments. It’s kept me calm, cool and collected.
For the Love of the Game
I love playing sports. Period. I’m a fierce competitor and I love to win. If that makes me a bad person, then so be it. However, there is a fine line between being a fierce competitor and being a poor sport. Too many times in the past I’ve lost my cool on the court or the field. I simply lose my composure. The worst part is that it was always my friends at the end of the tongue-lashing or a senseless shove.
Today, where you’ll find my comrades or opponents practicing or stretching before the game, you find me sitting on the sidelines. Sitting and doing nothing. Sitting with my eyes closed and listening to my breath. I shut out the world around me, reflect upon my own thoughts and I breathe. Call it my pregame meditation. This simple act puts me in such a state of relaxation. Again, so cool, calm and collected. Don’t get me wrong, once the game starts, I’m playing to win. My competitors will always get 110% of my effort but, unless intentionally provoked, I’ll never be found in the middle of an altercation.
A Moment of Silence
Perhaps this isn’t the right place to talk about meditation. But really, isn’t mediation, in its simplest form, just focused, controlled and elevated breathing? At least I think so. If you’ve read my previous blog on routine (Routine), you’ll know that I’ve made a very conscious effort to meditate, at a minimum, 10 minutes a day. Typically, the first thing in the morning as it sets the precedence for the rest of the day.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a good meditator. Often my mind is crazy with thoughts and ideas. Maybe I’m in a state of heightened awareness. I don’t know. All I know is that ever since I started this practice about five years ago, I’ve been different. I’ve realized that life is much bigger than the day-to-day problems that we all seem to have. I’ve realized that we live such a privileged life. And it’s with these realizations in mind that I rarely find myself stressed or suffering from any sort of anxiety. Life is just too much more than that.
Be mindful of your breathing habits. If you’re an emotional person, then take control of those emotions by taking meaningful breaths. Breathing is vital to your life and, by extension, to the lives around you. It’s free. Take full advantage.