Invisible yet important
Thu, 2011-05-05 09:06
We all do it, no matter our age, gender or nationality. It can change every second but often falls into a rhythm. It can be short, fast, long or slow. Some of us force it outwards or hold it back. Many of us are unaware of it as we go about our day to day activities. But if you're reading this post, then you're certainly doing it now.
We know that breathing is essential, our body does so unconsciously which means that we never have to think about it. Yet our breathing is linked to our emotional and mental state.
We hold our breath in anticipation, when someone we adore opens a present we've painstakingly chosen (from the newsagent down the road because we've left it to the last minute).
We hold our breath during particularly painful stretches instead of exhaling into the stretch.
Under extreme fear our breathing increases and becomes sharp and shallow. Too many rapid and shallow breaths lead to hyperventilation, lightheadedness and dizziness. Not ideal if you're balancing on a narrow beam high, high up.
Holding your breath while approaching a jump makes your body tense. Why is this bad? Because a tense body affects your good technique. Not breathing deeply, after a while, starves your body of much needed oxygen when you need it most escaping from hungry lions, freerunning zombies and jumping over pools of molten lava.
Indulge me please, but right now, yes right now, take a deep breath. Okay, now hold it. While your cheeks are puffed up and your chest has expanded outwards, let me tell you about this magical muscle located between your lungs and your stomach: the diaphragm. Breathing from the diaphragm means that, in addition to expanding outwards, your lungs also expand downwards and this increases your lung capacity. Being able to take deeper breaths means being able to take control of the situation, your emotions and your mind. You're no longer stressed, your bloodstream is being filled efficiently with oxygen, preparing your body and keeping your mind sharp and clear for your next move.
The intricacies of breathing and how to breathe are covered extensively in literature; medical, scientific and sports journals; so I won't cover it here. What works for me might not work for you. For the practical minded you can attend a meditation, yoga, capoeira or martial arts class. Martial arts practitioners exhale quickly to accompany a strike. Meditation practitioners practise deep breathing for to calm themselves. Long-distance runners time their breathing into cadences, or steps per inhale. Breathe through the mouth, through the nose, or both, whatever works for you. There are breathing exercises you can do, and I recommend that you find one that you like, will practise often and can recall and bring into effect during stressful situations.
Most of all, enjoy breathing. If you're a smoker, I will waggle my finger patronizingly at you to stop immediately (Attached to my finger is also a photo of those lung cancer victims - that might help). Relish the smells around you. Smell the roses, freshly baked bread, morning dew, your armpits, the baby's diaper and realize that either the baby or you, needs a diaper change, deodorant or both. Smells can relax, repulse, attract and motivate. The University of Northumbria found that women rated men more attractively when a sweat soaked cloth (pheromones) was present. The smell of rain hitting hot asphalt vividly brings back memories of running, numb fingers, wrinkled toes, blinking back the rain and feeling more alive than I have ever felt.
Finally, realize how fortunate some of us are to breathe without aid. It's something that we don't realize we have until we lose it.
Til next time, breathe easy.