Updated: May 3, 2020
Why does breathing feel so good?
Just as water is our vital element for survival, breath is our vital life force for survival and we need both daily. Water is the most important natural resource necessary for all living things on the planet and breath is the most important function necessary for our bodies to produce energy. Every cell in the body requires energy and the respiratory system provides that energy by inhaling oxygen and excreting carbon dioxide. Taking a deep breath in increases oxygen supply to the brain and with that comes a calming sensation to the mind, an awareness and connection to the body, a decrease in stress on the nervous system and a better handle on stress. Conscious breathing, meaning being connected to your breath at every moment, controls the mind. It can decrease negative thoughts and give more clarity and focus in any given situation. Yoga practices this constant connection to breath and it is called pranayama. Prana meaning breath and ayama meaning control; so pranayama is the control of breath. When one is practicing yoga, one is also practicing pranayama... and if you have ever lost your prana during yoga, you soon find yourself distracted and losing your balance. With breath, balance is restored, the mind is controlled and we come back into proper alignment in the body.
The Respiratory System Explained
The anatomy of the respiratory system consists of the nose, the nasal cavities, sinuses, pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi, bronchioles and lungs.
The organs and cavities of the respiratory system are divided into two zones called the conducting zone and the respiratory zone. The conducting zone consists of the nose, nasal cavities, pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi and bronchioles. This zone is responsible for the absorption and the filtering of the air we breathe. Their roles also include warming the temperature of the air and humidifying it before it reaches the lungs. The second zone is the respiratory zone. It is located within the lungs and consists of the bronchioles, the alveolar ducts and sacs and the alveoli. Each lung houses its own bronchus, which is then divided into smaller and smaller lobules called alveoli. These alveoli are like small balloons chiefly responsible for gas exchanges of oxygen and carbon dioxide during breathing.
Inhalation is the active movement in breathing, it increases the volume of the thoracic cage and its surrounding muscles. The most important muscle involved during inspiration is the diaphragm. The diaphragm is responsible for 75% of moving air into the lungs. The other 25% of the responsibility comes from the accessory inspiratory muscles which include the external intercostal muscles, the SCOM's and scalenes in the neck, and the pectoralis minor. All of these muscles work synergistically to open the ribs all the way up to the clavicles and increases the range of motion of the thorax during an inhale. Exhalation is the passive movement involved in breathing, it depresses the sternum and ribs and air is passively pushed out the body. The accessory expiratory muscles involved are the internal intercostals and the abdominal muscles. These muscles relax and compress the air out while the diaphragm actually elevates during exhalation to allow more space for oxygen-rich air to enter in the next breath cycle.
Do you ever experience difficulty breathing? Shortness of breath? There are a few factors which could determine the quality of the air we intake in the respiratory system. The quality of air intake refers to the capacity of the lungs to expand and the efficiency in ventilation. Airways can be resistant to the passage of air but why is that? At any moment of the day our moods and stress levels can change and therefore our oxygen needs change. A poor posture while experiencing stress at work can cause a very broken breathing cycle or even a stop to breathing all together until we realize it. Conversely, we breathe more efficiently and deeply during periods of less stress such as exercise, yoga or while receiving a massage. Adopting a healthy lifestyle can create a conscious awareness between you and your breath, promoting healthy breathing cycles that can last, even in moments of distress.
The Use of Breath During Massage and Benefits
The physiological benefits massage could have on the respiratory system include relaxation of the nervous system which helps slow down the respiration rate, increased range of motion in the thoracic cage, increased efficiency of inhales and exhales, which leads to improved gas exchanges and blood oxygenation.
During a massage, your massage therapist often asks you to take a deep breath in and out while performing a maneuver. It is common to use the flow of breath when a traction or mobilization is being executed. Inhaling prepares the muscles and joints and exhaling is when the traction/mobilization should be executed, helping ease the area into the adjustment. Breathing during a massage can also enhance the experience of the touch being received and heighten sensations. It supports the goals of the massage, decreases heart rate and blood pressure promoting physical and mental relaxation. Following the massage, the therapist should recommend breathing exercises to continue relaxation and support the releases achieved in the body. Deep breathing exercises could be practiced at any moment to decrease stress levels and promote relaxation.
I would be remiss if I did not recommend a breathing exercise for you. If you're not familiar with it, I present to you the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Begin by sitting in comfortable position, calm the mind, focus and relax. Breath in through the nose for 4 full seconds, next hold the breath for 7 seconds, then exhale through the nose very slowly yet forcefully for 8 seconds. During this slow and controlled exhalation ensure that your breath is audible creating a wooshing sound, you will feel a constriction at the back of your throat; this in yoga is known as Ujjayi breath. Repeat for 3 cycles or as many times as needed until you feel replenished. Namaste.
For more information and exercises, visit The Body Blog's Yoga & Breathing board on Pinterest!