Enhancing Metabolism Through The Power of Breath
Article written by Daniel Max, Holistic Health Counselor, Yoga Instructor, Shiatsu Practitioner, owner of Sense of Self
Did you know that you could control your stress levels as well as achieve your ideal weight by simply learning to breathe deeply?
We all have stress which we need to address. What we may not have realized is that breathing is a major factor in controlling stress: it can either relieve it or create it.
When stressed, one tends to take a shallow breath using the upper chest muscles rather than the diaphragm. For many, this breathing pattern becomes habitual, even when stress is not present. By paying closer attention, we can learn to control the depth and pace of each breath, enabling us to control our reactions to the stresses of life.
A Natural Shallow Breath:
Shallow breathing using the upper chest muscles occurs naturally when we hyperventilate. It is meant only for moments of severe stress when we need to increase the supply of oxygen to the body.
Imagine you are in the woods and are confronted by a bear. As you spot the bear you gasp. Gasping is a shallow breath into the upper part of the lungs. This gasp stimulates the lobes of the upper lungs which activate the part of your nervous system telling you there is a state of emergency. In the case of the bear, the body receives the message to RUN!
Although we now live in urban environments and bears are not the norm, our body continues to operate in a similar fashion, where a shallow breath signals the body to stay in survival mode.
A Shallow Breath’s Effect On Weight:
When the body believes itself in danger, it looks for an immediate source of energy to fuel its escape. The carbohydrates we eat are the primary energy source in times of danger and stress because they are most easily converted into fuel by the body. As long as the body thinks there is a state of emergency it will crave emergency fuel in the form of simple carbohydrates and sugar (these include processed foods such as cookies, chips, breads, soda, etc). Unfortunately, even though carbohydrates give a quick boost of energy, it is short lived with energy levels dropping once we digest the food. We then crave another dose of sugar and carbohydrates to lift up the energy levels once more, leading to overeating, overweight, and a number of other serious ailments.
Besides creating cravings for carbohydrates, as long as the body is in a “survival mode mentality” it will store as much fat as possible for later use. Fat has more energy stored in it and burns more slowly than carbohydrates, supplying longer lasting energy. The body does not know how long this “state of emergency” will last so it stores as much energy as it can.
While in “survival mode”, the digestive system is weakened. The body will prioritize survival rather than digest its food, therefore it will take the energy from the digestive system and supply it to the muscles for a “fight or flight” response.
As we learn to relax and breathe deeply, our digestive system maintains the energy to assimilate foods and nutrients correctly. Difficulty burning fat as well as difficulty gaining weight can both be symptoms of a weak digestive system.
Breathing’s Effect On Weight Through Exercise:
While exercising we might find ourselves out of breath. It is important to pay attention to breathing as deeply as possible to fully oxygenate the body. If we gasp for air while running on a treadmill, the body perceives this no differently than if we are being chased by a bear. To the body, a stressful situation is a stressful situation. Similarly, if we are huffing and puffing about being stuck in traffic, the body will perceive this as a state of emergency.
Practicing “Three Part” Breathing:
Be sure to practice breathing only through the nose both on the in and out exhalation.
Belly (diaphragm): Lying down on your back, rest your palms on your belly and begin breathing into the area underneath you palms, feeling the rise and fall of the belly with each breath.
Mid-chest: After several breaths move your palms up to the side ribs and breathe into the hands to expand the mid-chest. Notice that your belly just below the breastbone, after initially expanding, draws slightly in and up as your mid-chest expands. Take several breaths here before moving to the next part.
Upper Chest: Place your hands just beneath the collarbone. Breathe into your hands, filling up until you feel the collarbone lift. Notice that breathing into this part requires the most effort, while drawing in less volume.
Putting It Together Into A Full Breath:
Inhale: From bottom to top, breathing into each of the three parts progressively. Breathing into the lower belly, rising into the mid-chest, and from there all the way up to the collarbone.
Exhale: Relax the diaphragm first and continue from there, relaxing from your belly, to mid-chest, to upper chest. Do not strenuously “push” the air out. Calmly release each breath so that you finish the exhalation softly and relaxed, leaving the body receptive to the next breath.
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