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Breathing Styles You Can Use To Improve Your Health

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In this crash course, we dive into the science behind breathing, exploring its profound effects on the body and mind and how to use specific breathing styles to support longevity. To us, that means living longer, healthier lives. 

Much of this article references the research and findings of James Nestor, journalist and author of ‘Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art,’ scientific articles, and the ‘American Lung Association,’ an organization that has existed for 120 years. 

The key takeaway from this article is that things don’t have to be complicated to be effective and, in some cases, transformative. Simple breathing styles throughout the day, before you sleep, eat, study or workout, can transform your health. 

Before we begin, please inhale for five seconds and exhale for five seconds. And let’s get started.

How To Breathe Properly And What Happens When We Don’t

Yes, there are proper ways to breathe, and most of us do it wrong all day, every day. It’s common to think that problems like stress and anxiety come from the brain. However, 80% of the messages in our brain come from the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the largest nerve we have, going from our gut through our heart and lungs all the way up to our face and ear canal into our brain.

Shallow, rapid breathing, often associated with stress and anxiety, can trigger the body’s “fight or flight” response, leading to increased heart rate and tension. Conversely, slow, deep breathing can reduce sympathetic nervous system activity, decrease blood pressure, and enhance heart rate variability (variation in the beat-to-beat interval).

Mouth breathing leads to over-breathing, which puts our bodies under stress. How we breathe affects our heartbeat, circulation, digestion, and brain operation. By breathing dysfunctionally, taking in too much air, or unconsciously holding our breath while working, we stress our body’s systems. When our nervous system, cardiovascular, respiratory, and digestive systems are put under stress, the vagus nerve will tell our brain. 

Proper breathing starts in the nose, and the perfect breath, according to James Nestor, is an inhalation through the nose for about 5.5 seconds, then an exhalation for 5.5 seconds.

The Power of Nose Breathing

Breathing through the nose instead of the mouth offers numerous benefits. If you were to take an x-ray of your head, which James Nestor did, you would notice that we all have intricate structures within our nasal cavity. When we breathe air through our nose, we force the air through different passageways where it is pressurized, heated, moistened and purified. 

The passages in the nasal cavity act as a natural filter, removing pollutants and pathogens from the air before they reach the lungs. Just as sea animals that use a shell for protection, our nasal cavities act as our body’s first line of defence from the air we breathe.

5 Ways To Improve Your Breathing AND Support Longevity By James Nestor

Longevity doesn’t just mean living longer. It means maintaining a high quality of life as we age so that we’re mobile, sharp, and able to do things that bring us joy. Here are five breathing styles that can support your long-term health goals. 

  1. Stop breathing through your mouth. The nose is our filter and the body’s first line of defence. By heating, pressurizing, moistening, and conditioning the air we inhale through our nose, we can extract about 20% more oxygen than we can in the same amount of breaths through our mouth. That much more oxygen in every breath adds up over time.
  2. Use Your Nose. We want the nasal cavity to filter, moisten, and pressurize the air we breathe in before it reaches our lungs, and we want to be efficient by taking as few breaths as possible.
  3. Improve your lung capacity. The Framingham Heart Study, a 70-year-old cardiovascular study, found that, according to James, the number one indicator of longevity wasn’t genetics or diet; it was lung capacity. The larger and healthier our lungs are, the longer we will live.
    • Calm, controlled, and rhythmic breaths help you retain your lung capacity and remain calm.
    • Exercise and yoga will also help your lung capacity over time.
  4. Slow down. Slowly inhaling and exhaling tells your brain that you are calm. You have the power to control your nervous system and calm your mind. Either inhale for 3 seconds and exhale for 3 seconds. Or inhale for 3 seconds and extend your exhale to 7 or 8 seconds. When you do this, you further relax the body by eliciting a parasympathetic response. Your heart rate and blood pressure will change in direct response to this. Give it a try.
  5. Hold your breath. Breath-holding can be good and bad. When we hold it unconsciously, it’s very bad. If at work you notice bouts of unconscious breath-holds while you check your email or phone, know that it is causing stress.
    • Holding your breath can be beneficial because it increases carbon dioxide levels. By increasing your tolerance over time for carbon dioxide, you can learn how to calm your body, perform better, focus more, and even heat yourself up when you’re cold

We refer to James Nestor’s work because he has dedicated years to studying science and speaking with hundreds of people who have taken control of their own health and sicknesses by taking control of their breathing. He’s discovered this, and he’s confident that you can do the same for yourself. 

Embracing Breathing Styles For Longevity

In a world filled with distractions and stressors, the simple act of breathing offers a profound opportunity for connection, healing, and self-discovery. By understanding the science behind breathing and exploring various breathwork styles, we can unlock the full potential of our breath and harness its transformative power to cultivate greater health, harmony, and vitality in our lives.

About the author
Picture of Gabe Fontana

Gabe Fontana

A freelance writer who strives for clarity, brevity, and humanity. He takes complex topics and make them approachable and fun to read. Find him online at www.fontanacopy.com to view the breadth of his work.

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