Deep Breathing for Health, Weight Loss, Energy

Yoga-like, deep-breathing techniques can be effective in handling depression, anxiety, as well as assist with weight loss, according to a 2005 review and analysis of several studies by Richard Brown, MD and Patricia Gerbarg, MD. The review found that these breathing techniques serve as an excellent adjunct to conventional medical treatment in treating a myriad of psychological disorders, including eating disorders and obesity.

Aerobic Exercise
One reason aerobic exercise is good for you is that it increases heart rate, forcing your lungs to take in more oxygen while expelling more carbon dioxide. This gives the heart (a muscle) a good workout, and pumps a quick supply of oxygen through your cells, even those that may have been at less than optimal capacity.

Shallow breathing (or chest breathing) causes a constriction of the chest and lungs, and over time, less oxygen reaches deprived tissues. Rhythmic deep breathing expands the diaphragm, the cone-shaped muscle under your lungs, enlarging the lung’s air pockets, bringing on the relaxation response, with a massage of the lymphatic system.

Breathing, Toxins, and the Lymph System
Breathing serves as the pump for the lymphatic system, just as the heart pumps blood through the circulatory system. To thrive, the cells of your body rely on a complex exchange between the circulatory system and the lymphatic system. Blood flow carries nutrients and ample amounts of oxygen into the capillaries, while a finely tuned lymphatic system removes destructive toxins. The flow of breath is what controls this exchange.

A sluggish lymphatic system cannot detoxify properly. If you're sedentary, chances are your lymph fluid is not flowing as well as it could. Over time this can lead to weight gain, muscle loss, high blood pressure, fatigue, and tissue inflammation.  Researchers have shown that you can build up your lymph system's cleansing ability with deep breathing. The expansion and contraction of the diaphragm aggressively stimulates your lymphatic system as well as massages your internal organs, helping the body expell toxins, while leaving space for optimal oxygen exchange.

Relax and Lose Weight
There is no better way to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system (or what is referred to as the relaxation response) than with deep breathing. Further research hints at the discovery of a new body-mind connection, and how yogic breathing may affect the relaxation-response system, quickly calming the body and mind.

Deep breathing can deliver many of the benefits of exercise, including weight loss. Although not a substitute for exercise, it’s a great first step for anyone just getting started. Deep breathing also enhances the benefits of any form of exercise.  A basic measure of fitness is cardiovascular capacity, or how much oxygen the heart and lungs can deliver to the cells. Muscle must have energy to burn and the waste products of that metabolism removed. When our heart / lung system can keep up with those demands, the exercise is said to be aerobic. When the demand exceeds our cardiovascular capacity, the exercise is anaerobic, and the cells begin tapping energy stored in the form of glycogen.

But once the accumulated toxins reach a certain point, the muscle is done, and you hit the proverbial wall. This anaerobic exercise is especially good at raising the capacity of the cardiovascular system. Ironically, deep breathing and deliberately engaging the relaxation-response, also helps raise cardiovascular capacity.

Aerobic or low-demand exercise has many health benefits. It burns mostly fat for energy rather than using up the cells’ glycogen supplies — an essential element in weight loss. Deep breathing encourages the burning of fat even in low-demand activities.  Whenever you are stressed, your body tends to burn glycogen, not fat. By triggering the relaxation response, deep breathing encourages your body to burn fat instead of sugar. 

Deep Breathing Exercises

Simple Deep Breathing
Sit in a comfortable position with your hands on your knees. Relax your shoulders.  Exhale slowly through your nose, counting to five. Tense your abdominal muscles, drawing in your diaphragm to help your lungs deflate. At the bottom of your breath, pause for a count of two, then inhale slowly to the count of five. Expand your belly as you breathe in. Now close your eyes and repeat 5–10 times.

Fire Breath
The Fire or Bellows breath is a yogic exercise that stimulates energy when you need it, toning the abdomen and massaging the internal organs and lymph system. Sit in a comfortable position. With your mouth closed, breath in and out through your nose as fast as possible. Think of pumping up a balloon or water toy. Try to breathe in and out as equally as possible. Continue for 10–15 seconds, not more at first. As you become more accustomed to this technique you can increase the exercise to one full minute. Though not deep breathing, the bellows does activate the lungs, neck, chest and abdomen so that deeper breathing comes more naturally.

Three Part Breath
This yoga technique is very useful during times of stress, or at any time you need to relax, and may help you fall asleep. Sit comfortably and close your eyes. With your mouth closed, exhale deeply through your nose. Imagine that you are pouring the breath out of a jug, starting at the top of your chest and moving down through your mid-torso and into your diaphragm. Pause for two counts at the bottom of the breath, then inhale through your nose. Refill the “jug” slowly, counting to five (or seven if you can make it). Start at the bottom, expanding your diaphragm and belly, then your mid-torso, and lastly the top of your chest and lungs. Pause for two counts and exhale as before. Repeat 5–10 times.

Make the mind-body connection, and make deep breathing part of your routine. 

Source: author Marcelle Pick OB/GYN NP