Breathing is the most important element of human existence. The average person might last a few days without water, and a few weeks without food, but after a few minutes without air - most of us would be in trouble. Breathing properly is something that very few people practice on a daily basis, but the benefits of doing so can be incredibly worthwhile for your health. Recently, I’ve become fascinated with the study of different breathing techniques and how to apply them to everyday life.
Learning To Breathe With The Ice Man
Last year, while we were filming for the next Food Matters documentary, I had the honor of meeting internationally renowned breathing expert, Wim Hof. With a few mind-blowing physical achievements under his belt; including climbing to 20,000 feet on Mt. Everest wearing only shoes and shorts, Wim attributes most of his success to his breathing exercises. Many influential sporting and business figures from around the world have also adopted his methods including 11 times World Surfing Champion, Kelly Slater, and personal development expert, Tim Ferriss, who have both begun incorporating breathing exercises into their high-stress daily routines.
During my time with Wim, I was fortunate enough to take part in some exciting and challenging self-development exercises, including my first ever ice bath. One of the things that resonated strongly with me was the concept of learning how to breathe properly; which I've since found to be an amazing contributor to lifting my energy levels and improving my overall feeling of wellbeing. Wim's breathing exercises involve a series of deep, rhythmic inhales and exhales, followed by breath holding - which he believes can strengthen the body, improve the immune system and circulation, prevent disease, and help with focus, confidence, and mindfulness. Interestingly, scientific research is beginning to back up many of these beliefs.
A 2014 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that people could learn to regulate their own immune response and autonomous nervous system after just ten days of Wim Hof’s breathing exercises, meditations, and repetitive exposure to the cold. In the study, 24 participants, of whom 12 were trained by Hof, were injected with E. coli. The participants that Hof trained had a different inflammatory, immune, and hormonal response, allowing them to fight off the infection significantly more effectively than the other group. This study has baffled many international figures in the health industry and provided a very interesting basis for the discussion around just how incredible the human body can be with the right treatment and training.
So why are breathing exercises important, and how can you begin implementing them in your life?
Health Benefits Of Breathing Properly
1. Breathing exercises help your muscles to relax. You’ll find that it’s almost impossible to maintain a significant amount of physical tension when you are breathing properly and focusing on the patterns created by your breath.
2. Breathing exercises can significantly improve your body's oxygen delivery. When you breathe deeply in a relaxed state, fresh oxygen floods into every cell in the body which increases the functionality of bodily systems. You will probably also notice greatly improved mental concentration and physical stamina.
3. Breathing exercises can lower blood pressure. As your muscles begin to release tension, your blood vessels dilate and blood pressure will start to return to a normal level.
4. Breathing exercises can trigger the release of endorphins, which help to relieve pain and induce feelings of happiness or euphoria.
5. Breathing exercises contribute to improving detoxification within your body. Good breathing habits can help the lymphatic system function correctly, which supports the release of harmful toxins. This process cleanses the body and will allow it to direct energy to much more productive functions.
Breathing Exercises To Try At Home
With all of the potential benefits associated with proper breathing techniques, there's no reason why everyone shouldn't be giving it a go.
Here's a quick example of some easy-to-implement breathing exercises that you can do at home!
1. Lie on the ground or sit on a comfortable surface with your back straight.
2. Inhale deeply, drawing in as much air as you're able to using only your diaphragm (stomach breathing rather than chest breathing).
3. Exhale completely, but not strenuously; simply let all of the air out of your lungs.
4. Repeat the inhale and exhale process 30 to 40 times at your own pace.
5. On the last round, exhale completely and then hold; until you feel the need to breathe again.
6. Inhale deeply, then hold for 10 seconds.
7. Repeat steps 3 - 6 a few times until you feel a strong sense of calm.
8. After your final round, take a cold shower. If it's your first time doing so, just stay under the water for 30 seconds, then next time you try it, stay under a little longer until you’re comfortable enough to last 3 - 5 minutes. This practice can increase your alertness, improve blood circulation and even assist in stimulating weight loss!
If you'd prefer a personally guided program that incorporates other methods of breathing control such as yoga and meditation, you can access the incredible Ashley Aiken-Redon's classes on FMTV here.
Many of us simply can’t find the time to do structured exercises during our busy week. If this sounds like you, it might be a good idea to just focus on breathing more deeply throughout all of your daily activities. Whether it be driving to work, cooking dinner or sitting at the computer, try to really focus on the effect that deep breathing has on your body. You'll find that it becomes so ingrained in your subconscious that you'll end up breathing correctly in the future without even trying!