Breathing is part of your autonomic system. You don’t need to instruct your body to breathe the way do for example with running. The quality of your breathing can change as a result of stress.
Have you noticed how a newborn baby breathes? Typically, babies and infants breathe with a slight contraction of their diaphragm muscle, with very minimal chest movement, and a closed mouth. This innate pattern can change under the influence of stress; stress being the big umbrella word for mental, physical and emotional stress. All type stresses (work, surgery, relationships, phobias, exams, illnesses, etc.), can ramp up your sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight response, and head you down the path of dysfunctional breathing, triggering further stress.
As you go through the events of living you will come into situations where your breathing will alter temporally. It might occur from a fairly obvious or not so obvious situation such as:
- Fracturing your lower ribs. To avoid aggravating your sore ribs you compensate with shallow chest breathing.
- Public speaking. Going into a panic at the thought of speaking to a crowd may induce over-breathing/hyperventilation.
- Frequent sinus congestion. You found breathing in and out of your mouth was more comfortable then through your blocked nose.
- The shock of the loss of a loved on.
- General anaesthesia.
These types of brief changes in breathing can incidentally become your new normal.
The diaphragm muscle, the instigator of breathing.
When you inhale your diaphragm expands downward and laterally into your abdominal cavity, gently pushing internal organs out of the way. When you exhale your diaphragm muscle returns to its original position, allowing your organs to again occupy the space where your diaphragm just was.
The free movement of your organs is highly essential. As they roll and glide within your abdominal cavity, blood and lymphatic fluid circulation for the organ and surrounding tissues are increased. If there is very little movement of any of your organs, the function and efficiently of the organ will diminish and toxins will build up; much like when a muscle is not used.
Shallow chest breathing does not put your diaphragm muscle to use. In fact, you will be recruiting your accessory breathing muscles to do the work instead. Accessory breathing muscles are activated when more oxygen is needed in times of exercising. Working these muscles overtime by giving them a prolonged task of breathing, on top of their normal duties, is a cause of muscle fatigue and tension. The main 3 accessory breathing muscle are your scalene, sternocleidomastoid and trapezium; found in your neck and shoulders.
Allow your nose to be the breather, not your mouth.
Remembering that the nasal cavity occupies 1/3 of your skull. Knowing what goes on in there it is hardly surprising! There is its relationship with carbon dioxide, immune defence and most importantly nitric oxide.
Carbon Dioxide. In the previous blog I wrote about the important of carbon dioxide (CO2), explaining the side effects of breathing out too much CO2. Some more info on CO2:
- C02 escapes through your open mouth in large amounts.
- The amount of CO2 exhaled through your nose is a lot less. This is because:
- The diameter difference between your mouth and your 2 nostrils; regulates volume of air.
- Within your nasal cavity CO2 (and oxygen) need to travel through many small little tunnels, turbinates, before reaching the outside. Turbinates create resistance and results in a quitter, slower, calmer breath and reduced breathing volume.
Immune System. The nasal cavity role in your health is your first line of immune defence!
- Removes and traps inhaled pathogens (bacteria, viruses, pollen and dust), with the help of lymph tissues lining the nasal cavity.
- Drains and clears the paranasal sinuses and lacrimal ducts.
The nasal cavity also:
- Warms and humidifies the air you’ve inhaled.
- Responsible for sense of smell.
- Produces Nitric Oxide.
Nitric Oxide. Within the lining of your nasal passages nitric oxide (NO) is produced. NO gets transported, with the air you breathed in, from your nasal cavity to your lungs and onto the rest of the body. (NO is also produced in the epithelial tissues lining your arteries and gut).
The journal Science named NO “Molecule of the Year” in 1992. In 1998 three scientists won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for researching its role in the body:
- Widens airways
- Increases endurance and strength
- Improves sleep quality
- Widens blood vessels (vasodilator).
- Reverses build-up of cholesterol and plaque in the blood vessels.
Improving your levels of NO can help with conditions such as high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, diabetes, erectile dysfunction and stroke.
If you were to breathe through your mouth, NO production is greatly decreased!
- Suppling your body with sufficient amounts of carbon dioxide and nitric oxide; softening muscles and fuelling your body with oxygen.
- Improving your immune system and lowering your response to allergy triggers.
- Decreasing your susceptibility to certain diseases.
- Having a calmer nervous system, more relaxed body and mind.
20 March 2016