Ancient Secrets for Proper Breathing (and How to Live Longer!)
The Art Of Breathing Correctly and Why It Matters
From a young age, we’re taught how to take care of ourselves and maintain a healthy lifestyle…
Follow the food pyramid to get your daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Get your heart rate up and exercise every day. Brush your teeth, take your vitamins, get an annual check-up, and of course...
Keep the excess weight off!
The reality is, all of these things are missing the mark. The singular most important benefit to our health is the thing most ignored, neglected, and misunderstood. It’s something we easily take for granted because it’s passively performed by our bodies – every minute, of every day – and if it doesn’t… we die.
It’s our breathing. And not just our breathing, but how we breathe.
Think about the last time you visited your doctor. How much time did they spend focusing on your breathing, aside from the cold press of a stethoscope? They probably checked your weight, your heart rate, and your blood pressure — all things that are greatly affected by how well or how poorly you breathe.
Enduring the Covid-19 pandemic over the past couple of years, many of us have become more breath-conscious. Every day we cover our faces with a mask that can make it difficult to inhale and exhale. And without one, we worry about just what exactly we're breathing in.
It shouldn’t have to take a pandemic to make us realize all the ways proper breathing can create a healthier life. Poor breathing has been connected to dozens of chronic illnesses like asthma, ADHD, anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, and the list goes on and on.
Breathing is living. And there is life in our breath.
How to Breathe Properly
In his book “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art”, author James Nestor writes about his journey to explore our breathing. He states,
“Inside the breath you just took, there are more molecules of air than there are grains of sand on all the world’s beaches. We each inhale and exhale some 30 pounds of these molecules every day—far more than we eat or drink.”
Through his research, he shines a bright light on this neglected pillar of our everyday health.
He describes an experiment in which he spent ten days with silicone plugs stuck in his nose forcing him to breathe through his mouth. All in an effort to prove the effects of proper breathing. While obstructed, his snoring increased 13-fold, he was experiencing two dozen sleep apnea events per night, and his blood pressure skyrocketed to stage 2 hypertension.
All after less than two weeks of forced mouth-breathing.
He discovered that nearly half of the population are chronic mouth-breathers. Mouth breathing may seem harmless, however, it can have long-term effects on your body. It depletes the body of moisture, irritates the lungs, and can increase the risk of respiratory infection. In addition, it has been linked to periodontal diseases, like gingivitis and halitosis, and even neurological disorders.
Through decades of research, it has been discovered that over generations of humans’ chronic mouth breathing, the shapes of our skulls have actually changed. Our mouths and airways are too small. As Nestor exclaims, “Humans now have the sad distinction of being the most plugged-up species in the animal kingdom.”
So, Rule #1 to proper breathing is to breathe through your nose. It can help with snoring and mild cases of obstructive sleep apnea and decreases your risk of dental and respiratory issues.
The Secret to Living Longer
A 1980 study found that the ‘greatest indicator of life span’ was lung capacity. Not diet, exercise or genetics like it was previously assumed. And those who study it today have found that most Americans breathe inadequately.
While we have an uphill battle as we age — we lose about 12% of our lung capacity by the time we hit 50, with an increased decline thereafter — all is not lost.
Chinese scholars, starting around 400 B.C. believed breath could be a medicine or a poison depending on how we used it. Just as those who practice the ancient arts of yoga and meditation today know, we can learn how to breathe properly at any age and begin to reverse the damage in our lungs. Through proper breathing, we can increase the size of our lungs which can lead to a longer lifespan.
You can achieve this through proper breathing Rule #2, longer and deeper breaths. Breathing like this can protect the lungs from long-term wear and tear, irritation and infection, and can improve circulation.
Nestor says, “Try this:
“For the next several minutes, inhale gently through your nose to a count of about five and then exhale, again through your nose, at the same rate or a little more slowly if you can. This works out to about six breaths a minute.”
Records have proven that this “slow-and-low” breathing method has even helped 9/11 survivors restore their airways, damaged by breathing in airborne debris, when other therapies had failed. Practicing these breaths can also improve your mental health and decrease symptoms of anxiety.
Breathe Better, Live Better
By focusing on improving your breathing, you can improve your health and long-term well-being. Breathing better can improve many things from allergies to stress levels to sleep to digestion.
And one final highlight from Nestor:
“Fortunately, a remedy for many of our chronic health problems is right under our noses. It requires no batteries, Wi-Fi, headgear or smartphones. It costs nothing and takes little time and effort. It’s a therapy our ancestors self-administered for thousands of years with only their lips, noses and lungs.”
Breath gives us life. It’s delicate and complex. It’s easy to take for granted because your body inhales and exhales, without you even noticing. But without it, we simply cannot live.
And by taking measures to do it well, and do it properly, you can live a longer, healthier, and more fulfilling life.