Breathing functions autonomously and feels like the most natural thing in the world – we give it next to no attention. But we should, as our breathing has a great impact on our stress levels and health. When facing difficult situations, stress or anxiety, it’s of great help if we can control our breath using specific breathing techniques that will calm and relax us.
Should we breathe through the nose or mouth?
If we want to learn how to breathe correctly, experts agree that it’s healthier to breathe through the nose than through the mouth. When breathing through the nose, the fine hairs in the nose and nasal mucosa serve to repel dirt and viruses. The air passing through the nose is also warmed and humidified.
Filter function of nose breathing
Breathing through the nose not only provides better protection against viruses, it also allows the body to absorb more oxygen. In addition, the olfactory cells in the nose help detect pollutants in the air. Mouth breathing doesn’t have the advantage of the filtering function or olfactory cells. This means that pollutants in the air can enter the respiratory tract directly, increasing the risk of lung disease.
Abdominal breathing for more oxygen
We often breathe poorly, without being aware of it. Due to our posture, we’ve become almost exclusively accustomed to chest breathing, in which only the chest rises, causing the shoulders to rise too. Abdominal and diaphragmatic breathing have become increasingly neglected, even though much more breath can be taken in this way.
Breath and psyche
Besides our posture, our mental and physical states are also reflected in the way we breathe. When stressed, angry, fearful or overwhelmed, our breathing is mostly irregular, shallow, or accelerated – or we hold our breath for a short moment. By contrast, when we're relaxed, we breathe more calmly, freely and deeply.
Practise abdominal breathing
Abdominal breathing strengthens the diaphragm, massages the internal organs, has a relaxing effect and relieves stress. How it works:
- Lie flat on the floor (or sit upright) and adopt a relaxed position.
- Place your hands on your abdomen. Focus your attention on your abdomen and observe your breath without actively changing it.
- Now breathe consciously into and out of the abdomen a few times to deepen your abdominal breathing.
- When you inhale, your abdomen expands and when you exhale it recedes. Your chest remains still.
What happens in the body when we breathe
On average, a person breathes in and out 11 to 15 times per minute. Breathing is a vital process and functions automatically. With each breath, the body takes in fresh, oxygen-rich air and releases used, carbon dioxide-rich air back into the environment. Various organs are involved in this gas exchange. The air circulates through the nasal and oral cavities into the throat and then to the larynx. Passing through the trachea, the air then enters the left and right lungs. The lungs have tree-like branches: on the outermost branches are tiny air sacs called alveoli. This is where the vital exchange between carbon dioxide and oxygen takes place.
Healing effect of breath
Because breath supplies the body with vital oxygen, it’s a powerful source of energy. Respiratory therapy also uses this power: gentle breathing exercises have beneficial effects on medical conditions and mood disorders.