Waiting to Exhale!

woman in shadow on a beach

Waiting to Exhale!

To most people breathing is considered an involuntary function; something which is beyond human control. To an extent, this is true. Breathing is somewhat reflexive. If you try to hold your breath, you will eventually loose consciousness and your body will automatically resume breathing. We cannot control whether or not we breathe. What we can control is how we breathe. And how one breathes can have a tremendous impact on one’s health and wellbeing.

This summer newsletter focuses on the importance of correct breathing and gives you some breathing exercises to practice.

Benefits of deep breathing:

Learning to consciously control and regulate one’s breathing is considered the foundation of relaxation techniques. Slow, quiet, regular breathing induces a parasympathetic state in the body; the “relaxation state”. In this state, the heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate are decreased; digestion and immunity are optimal; and concentration is enhanced.

Regular practice of deep breathing exercises has been shown to increase parasympathetic nervous system tone and decrease sympathetic (“fight or flight”) nervous system activity. Eventually, with constant practice, this conscious regulation of breathing becomes sub-conscious and habitual and one becomes able to call on this essential relaxation response in times of stress, both physical and mental/emotional.

Deep breathing actually increases the amount of oxygen in the blood. Our cells use oxygen to create energy. Deep breathing increases oxygen consumption and metabolic rate within the body leading to more efficient burning of calories.

Proper breathing can improve respiratory function. For example, patients with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), especially asthma, have been shown to benefit greatly from the practice of regular deep breathing.

Deep breathing can also have a positive impact on cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that slow breathing can lower heart rate and blood pressure and is a useful treatment for patients with hypertension.

In addition, deep breathing affects one’s emotional health. Breathing exercises are a fundamental treatment for anxiety and panic disorders, in which patients are taught to control heart and respiration rates and control episodes of hyperventilation.

Deep breathing can also be helpful in relaxing one’s body and mind in order to induce sleep.

Deep Breathing Exercises:

Deep, abdominal, diaphragmatic breathing is a technique which draws air deep into the bases of the lungs by fully engaging the diaphragm and the rib cage. It requires that your abdomen expand when you inhale and collapses when you exhale.

These breathing exercises can be performed anywhere, although performing them in a quiet place while you’re sitting or lying comfortably with loose garments at least for the first few times will give you a better idea of what to do.

  • Place one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen.
  • Slowly inhale through the nose for the count of four. Focus on drawing in a cleansing, oxygenated breath of life.
  • Feel your abdomen expanding against your hand. If you feel your chest expand first, refocus your attention to breathing with your diaphragm.
  • Hold this breath for the count of seven.
  • Exhale slowly for the count of eight through a slightly open mouth as you abdomen collapses. You may choose to make a “woosh” sound as you exhale. Focus on releasing stress and tension and letting go of your worries as you exhale.
  • Repeat

Alternate nostril breathing:

Take a moment to focus while inhaling through your nose. Notice that you’re only inhaling through one nostril at a time. In fact, humans generally alternate nostrils roughly every two to three hours in what’s known as a nasal cycle.

Activity in the brain is found to be greater on the opposite side of the nostril through which breathing predominates at that particular time. When the right nostril predominates, we tend to do better in “left brain activities” such as logical thinking and verbal skills. When left nostril breathing is prevalent, “right brain activities” such as creativity and emotionality predominate. In many people, this natural rhythm is disturbed. Within the doctrine of yoga, alternate nostril breathing is considered to balance the left and right brain hemispheres and calm the nervous system.

  • Place your thumb on your right nostril.
  • Place your ring and pinky fingers over your left nostril.
  • Inhale through the left nostril while obstructing the right with your thumb. Do this for the count of four.
  • Now hold the breath, closing both nostrils for the count of seven.
  • Now uncover your right nostril and exhale for the count of eight.
  • Repeat

Practice these exercises three times a day until you can work up to deep breathing for extended periods of time. If you feel lightheaded or dizzy, simply increase the speed at which you do each breathing cycle but try to maintain a longer exhalation than inhalation. You will slowly improve and be able to draw in deeper breaths as you progress.

Oxygen is an essential element to life and proper oxygenation of one’s tissues (and particularly of the brain) can have profound effects on one’s health and wellbeing. Simply being consciously aware of one’s breathing can provide great benefit.

Just breathe!

Please Note: This information is for educational purposes only. Consultation with a licensed health care practitioner is recommended for anyone suffering from a health ailment.
If you have any questions, or would like to schedule an appointment, please feel free to contact Dr. Leat Kuzniar, ND at 201-757-5558 or, through her contact form.

Dr. Leat Kuzniar ND
Dr. Leat Kuzniar ND

Dr. Kuzniar is a board member of the New Jersey Association of Naturopathic Physicians and is also a member of the Gastroenterology Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She currently holds a State of Vermont Naturopathic Physician license (as New Jersey does not yet offer licensing for Naturopathic doctors).