As I exited the plane at 1,400 feet above the ground, the last thing I was thinking about was breathing. I’m pretty sure I held my breath for the first two minutes, which would have been my personal record. I’m sure if someone told me to take a couple deep breaths while still in the plane, I would have been more relaxed as I scooted myself closer to the open hatch of the plane. Once I realized while I floated in midair that death was not waiting for me on the ground below, I felt myself relax and take in the world before me with a new perspective. I still didn’t think about breathing.
When was the last time you thought about your breath? In our busy world, for many of us, the last thing we’re thinking about is breathing. For some, focusing on your breath may only come during exercising or meditation. However, if you are focusing on your breathe, what are you paying attention to when breathing? When you take a breath, is the breath deep or shallow; fast or slow; and what body parts are moving? Quite possibly, you’ll notice that you’re breath may be shallow or fast. By using more muscles to help you breathe, you may realize that your lungs can get more benefit from each breath.
The muscles that make breathing possible
For a moment, think of the parts of the body that allow you to breathe. Many readers might name the nose, mouth, lungs, and diaphragm. Some readers might include the pharynx and trachea (or windpipe). In addition to these important key parts, the other muscles that allow for breathing include the intercostal muscles, rectus abdominal, transverse abdominals, internal and external obliques, and for some, the scalenes and sternocleidomastoid.1
Diaphragm: This muscle sits right under the lungs. It looks like an opened parachute and is the primary muscle used for breathing.
Intercostal Muscles: The intercostal muscles include the external, internal, and parasternal intercostals. They are located between the ribs and have a primary function in assisting with breathing.
Rectus Abdominal: The center abdominals assist with air flow out of the body. Forced expansion of the rectus abdominal can assist with creating more vacuumed pressure in the cavity, which would allow more air to enter the lungs.
Internal, External, Transverse Obliques: This set of muscles add in the contraction of the abdominal cavity as the air is exhaled out of the lungs. As with the rectus abdominal, these muscles can also help move air into the lungs by forced expansion of the muscles.
Scalenes and Sternocleidomastoid: These two sets of muscles can help with the inhalation of the breath if other muscles in the body are weak.
A deep breath of fresh air
When we go through our daily activities, we tend to breathe unconsciously. We allow our brain and lungs to work automatically and as long as we don’t have anything clogging up our throat or sinuses, we’re getting oxygen into our lungs. Yet, if we stop to notice our breath, we might realize that we’re taking fast and shallow breaths. Even though we might be exchanging vital gases in our lungs, the process could be improved with deep breathing.
Researchers have found that practicing deep breathing could enhance our oxygen uptake, resulting in greater health benefits like decrease blood pressure, lowered heart rate, and reduced stress. 2,3 This breathing method incorporates all the above mentioned muscles, not just the diaphragm and intercostal muscles. In addition to the health benefits, deep breathing can strengthen the abdominal muscles when done regularly. No need to do a million crunches!
Now take a deep breathe
Follow the video below to practice deep breathing. This can be done daily, one or more bouts a day. Perform the breathing exercise about six to eight repetitions at first and then as you feel comfortable, increase repetitions. Slow breaths are important because light headedness and dizziness may occur. If this happens, stop and resume later.
Incorporating deep breathing into your daily life can be done anywhere and anytime. Breathing deeply not only provides more air to your lungs, but it can reduce the unwanted stress in your life. Go ahead and let your lungs receive the air it deserves.
1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (2019) How the Lungs Work. Retrieved on March 26, 2020 from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/how-lungs-work
2. Librianty Thome, A., Arifa, N., Desiyani, C., Rakhmat Wabula, L. (2018). The Effectiveness of Slow Deep Breathing to Decrease Blood Pressure in Hypertension: a Systematic Review. Retrieved on March 27, 2020 from http://eprints.ners.unair.ac.id/834/
3. Perciavalle, V., Blandini, M., Fecarotta, P., et al. (2016). The role of deep breathing on stress. Retrieved on March 27, 2020 from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10072-016-2790-8