At the most basic level, exercise is all about energy. Energy is the key to life. Without it, our cells cannot function, our bodies cannot move, our brains cannot think. Lack of energy is the first step towards illness and disease. In our bodies, energy originates in our cells. Cells and their mitochondria are the power plants—the energy producers—in your body, providing you with the fuel you need to live healthfully. The oxygen we take in during exercise not only burns fat, it also fuels these energy-producing cells.
It All Begins with Breath
Proper breathing is essential for increasing and maintaining energy. It’s also the moment-to-moment, day-to-day pathway to whole health. Your breath feeds your brain will cell-powering oxygen, and fuels your body’s circulation. Breathing deeply cleanses the internal system, supports mental clarity and emotional balance. Blood pressure can drop, and stress and anxiety can diminish, when you breathe fully and deeply. When you’re feeling fatigued, stressed out, the first thing you should check is your breathing.
Your breath is also one of the most basic connections we have to your environment. Every time you breathe in and out, you receive and give back to your natural surroundings. It’s a simple, profound connection—and learning to breathe well will enhance it.
How to Breathe
What’s the difference between breathing well and breathing poorly? It all starts with the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the primary muscle in breathing. It is located at the boundary between the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity. When you breathe properly, your diaphragm contracts and you abdomen protrudes; this allows your lungs to fill with air. Inside your lungs is where oxygen truly enters your body, through 300 million alveoli, most densely located in the lungs’ lower lobes. Thoracic breathing, which is often shallow and gasping, does not engage the diaphragm and prevents your lungs from taking in the maximum amount of oxygen. This shallow breathing can cause tension, stress, and anxiety, as well as dizziness and high blood pressure. In a workout, thoracic breathing causes shortness of breath, cramps, muscle pain, tension, fatigue, weakness and loss of concentration.
Try this Simple Exercise: The “Reverse” Breath
Take a breath in. Exhale slowly and completely out of your mouth, releasing air until there is nothing left to exhale. Repeat, breath in and slowly breath out, observing how your body works to breathe. What can you observe about your breath?
You probably noticed that when you exhale completely, your body automatically takes in more air. Your lungs work like a vacuum, expanding to draw in the maximum amount of air. Often we think of an exhale as the conclusion of breath, when in fact exhaling is the first step in preparing your body to receive a full, oxygen rich, diaphragmatic breath.
Here’s A Tip About Circulation: Your lymphatic system
Deep breathing has a powerful effect on your body’s lymphatic system. Your lymphatic system is a major component of your immune system. Made up of lymph nodes, ducts and vessels and organs, your lymph system is a kind of cleaning system for your body, transporting waste and cellular by-products. The lymphatic system has no pump, like your heart, to circulate its fluid. Deep breathing has been shown to stimulate the lymphatic system, and increase the rate of toxic elimination by as much as 15-20 times the body’s normal pace.