Just take a deep breathe.
As I write this, I am taking long, deep, calming breaths in and out. Why you may ask? Because, this is something I can do right now to boost my health and immunity. Being proactive is empowering. In these uncertain times, educating ourselves and taking steps to boost our immune system is a smart strategy. Deep or diaphragmatic breathing for a few minutes, once or twice a day is a simple technique that anyone can do. Let’s take a look at how some basic breathing techniques can boost your health.
The immune system is a network of cells, proteins, tissues and organs. These components work together 24/7 to protect and heal from infection and injury. Piles of research demonstrate that chronic stress depresses the immune system. One way stress affects your immune system is that it decreases the body’s lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are the white blood cells in your body that help fight off infections and viruses.
When we feel threatened or afraid, part of the brain called the amygdala is automatically alerted. When it’s alerted it tells our hypothalamus that we are in danger. At lightning speed, the hypothalamus talks to the rest of the body through the autonomic nervous system. This branch of the nervous system operates “automatic” processes like heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and digestion.
The sympathetic and parasympathetic are two parts of the autonomic nervous system. These networks operate on autopilot and react to the environment around you, including your thoughts. The body responds the same way to psychological stress as it does to physical stress. When we perceive danger or feel afraid, the sympathetic nervous system turns on the “fight-flight-freeze” response.
Stress hormones like adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol flood your body mobilizing immune cells along the way to react quickly to the threat; blood sugar spikes to provide quick energy, blood pressure and heart rate go up and non-essential functions like digestion slow or shut down. You can think of it as flooring the gas pedal of your car to avert imminent danger. When we are out of danger the parasympathetic nervous system taps on the brakes and we can calm down and relax. This is when our body can rest, digest, heal and repair.
When we are chronically stressed and worried, we are living in a sympathetic state with our body staying revved up and on high alert. You may notice muscle tension, fatigue, joint aches, irritability, anxiety, depression and shallow breathing becoming the daily norm. The inflammatory response needed to protect us in an acute situation becomes chronic and disrupts almost all bodily processes. This increases the risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, digestive problems, anxiety, sleep issues, depression and memory problems. The bottom line is chronic stress leads to greater levels of inflammation and a decline in health and immunity. Today is a great day to explore healthy ways to cope with life’s stressors. Let’s start with basic breathing techniques to boost your health.
Slow, deep breathing sends signals to the nervous system that the danger has passed and it’s okay to relax. That’s when stress hormones return to baseline levels and you feel calm again. It works because the diaphragm is connected to the autonomic nervous system. Slow, deep breathing shifts us into relaxation and restoration mode, where we should spend most of our time. Diaphragmatic breathing is a deep breathing technique that uses the diaphragm, the main muscle of respiration. It’s located just below the lungs and heart (5) and is the floor of the thoracic/chest cavity and ceiling of the abdominal cavity. Research shows that diaphragmatic breathing helps decrease anxiety, blood pressure and muscle tension while also enhancing balance. Essentially, it builds physical and mental resilience. These breathing techniques definetely boost your health.
Practice “ribcage” breathing a few minutes each day. Personally, I take 30 deep breaths before getting out of bed in the morning and before going to sleep. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I do the same deep breathing and then tell myself several times, “I am so sleepy;” followed by, “I am sleeping.” This puts me back to sleep 95% of the time which is absolutely great for a former insomniac!
The beauty of deep breathing is that you can do it any time you feel anxious, worried or are overwhelmed by anything. I’ve been practicing deep breathing for a few months now as a bedtime ritual and before meals saying a blessing of gratitude. I’ve noticed that I am digesting my food better, sleeping deeper, am less irritable and more loveable!
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