The Importance of Conscious Breathing

Breathing is the most important function of life. Unfortunately, it is also the first function that we tend to neglect the most. The purpose of breathing is to delivery oxygen from the atmosphere to air sacs in our lungs to be absorbed through the air sac cell membranes into tiny blood vessels called capillaries. From there the oxygen is carried by red blood cells to all the cells, tissues and organs of our body.

The reason why our breathing tends to get neglected because it is largely under subconscious control. However, breathing is one of the few functions we have that is, not only automatic, but within our control. We can control the depth and rate of our breathing.In our busy, stressful, modern lives our breathing usually becomes dysfunctional because there is so much that we have to give attention to in our external world that anything that can take care of itself we tend to neglect.

The problem with this is that our breathing is crucial for everything we do. If we do not have adequate oxygen delivered to our bloodstream, our cells, tissues and organs will be starved of oxygen, leading to less than optimal functioning of all our organs which can also lead to fatigue, low energy, brain fog and an overall decline in our effectiveness and productivity as we progress throughout our day.

The way to combat this often inevitable trend is to take back control of our breathing. Now most people breathe too shallow and too rapidly. This is high ineffective and detrimental because we do not utilize the full capacity of our lungs to delivery oxygen and breathing rapidly leads to hyperventilation. Hyperventilation can lead to a condition called respiratory alkalosis which, through physiologic mechanisms, can lead to less oxygen delivery to the cells.

The way to combat this is through conscious breathing which is deep and slow. There are many conscious breathing techniques out there, including Pranayama and Buteyko, and they are often in opposition to each other. In order to simplify conscious breathing I will describe a simple way to do this.

You breathe in to a count of 5, breathe out to a count of 7 and then hold your breath to a count of 3. This will decrease your respiratory rate to 4 breaths a minute. Now if this is too difficult then you can decrease the count and breathe in to a count of 4, out to a count of 6 and hold for 3 which will still decrease your respiratory rate to approximately 5. 

Breathing to a count of 4 or 5 allows you to take in a deep enough breath because most people breathe at a rate of 10 to 12 which only allows you to take a shallow breath. This ensures that you are utilizing the full capacity of your lungs. The exhale should be longer than the inhale because you want to expel any carbon dioxide from your cells’ normal metabolism. You hold your breath on the exhale because it allows a slight build-up of carbon dioxide at the level of the cells which facilitates the release of oxygen from red blood cells to your tissues.

You should do this practice at least once an hour for a few minutes at a time. If you are able to do this consciously and regularly you will notice increased energy, more mental clarity, increased productivity and a greater sense of wellbeing and content. Try this breathing practice for the next few days and notice the changes you see in yourself. 

Putting alerts on your smartphone can help to remind you to stay regular with this practice. Try this for the next week and watch your life transform!

Nauman Naeem MD 

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