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Breathe Better, Live Better

You wouldn’t think anyone would need breathing lessons, but Scientific American reports that studies show that breathing-based exercises can help you live better, and healthier. Actually, the Tau religion of China and Hinduism have been teaching breathing techniques for centuries, and various cultures have picked them up since.

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Most of the exercises center on relaxation and meditation strategies which, when implemented, can positively affect you physiologically as well as mentally. One such exercise involves learning controlled breathing that can moderate your heart rate.

Properly done, you may even be able to consciously lower your blood pressure. In fact, many breathing experts agree that 9 out of 10 people breathe poorly, which negatively impacts both your stress level and your blood pressure. The good news is that correcting your breathing can help alleviate both of these conditions.

Dr. Konstantin Buteyko, creator of the Buteyko Breathing Method, discovered he could lower his blood pressure simply by bringing his breathing toward normal. In this way, he successfully "cured" his own hypertension. In 1957, he coined the term "disease of deep breathing," having researched the health effects of excessive breathing for over a decade.

The following is a Buteyko breathing exercise that can help reduce stress, control anxiety and quell panic attacks. This sequence helps retain and gently accumulate carbon dioxide, leading to calmer breathing and reduced anxiety. In other words, the urge to breathe will decline as you enter a more relaxed state:

1. Take a small breath into your nose, followed by a small breath out

2. Then hold your nose for five seconds in order to hold your breath, and then release your nose to resume breathing

3. Breathe normally for 10 seconds

4. Repeat the sequence

Research shows the reason controlled, purposeful breathing is so calming is because it doesn’t activate specific neurons in your brain that communicate with your arousal center. Put another way, the reason rapid, shallow breathing is so stress-inducing is because it activates neurons that trigger arousal, which typically translates into worry and anxiety.

One thing you may not realize, however, is that the origins of dysfunctional breathing can also be traced back to excessive sitting. The average American sits 13 to 16 hours a day, which puts your body into an unnatural posture. According to Vranich, your posture affects as much as 30 percent of your breathing.

You may also have learned improper breathing through sports. Constrictive clothing such as tight waist bands, compression garments and bra straps add to the problem. Sucking in your gut also worsens the situation.

If you decide to try breathing exercises, one of the key things to remember is to work with and engage your diaphragm when breathing, as this will allow you to change your breathing more easily, and make the change permanent. This is what the "rock and roll" breathing exercise teaches you.

The bottom line is proper breathing is a cornerstone of health. Learning to breathe well can improve your sleep, cognition, eating habits and resilience to stress, as well as lower inflammation, reduce pain and increase longevity.

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