What do weight gain, poor sleep, anxiety, fatigue, poor posture, lack of motivation, poor immunity and a host of other problems have in common?
Answer: Poor breathing.
According to Steven Park, MD, a New York City ear, nose and throat specialist and author of Sleep, Interrupted: A physician reveals the #1 reason why so many of us are sick and tired, aging well is directly proportional to how well you breathe.
Though most people rarely consider their breath unless they have a problem, the way you breathe can make or break your health. “Breathing is the most fundamental thing we do as human beings,” says Dr. Park.
"If you breathe better during the day, you can breathe better at night".
Less than optimal breathing can manifest in many ways. “One of the most visible signs of poor breathing is the bent, stooped posture of some elderly people,” points out Leslie Kaminoff, author of Yoga Anatomy and founder of the Breathing Project, a Yoga studio in New York City. “They are losing their battle with gravity.” Improve your breathing, and you will naturally improve your posture (and vice versa), too. Many internal organs, such as the intestines, will function better as a result. A healthy diaphragm positively affects organs, such as the heart and lungs, and over 100 joints.
There is also a strong correlation between emotions and deep breathing. Most people have experienced the relief of feeling their whole body relax upon taking a deep breath after a stressful episode. People also understand the constricted breathing that can happen when someone is behaving toward them in an aggressive, threatening or hostile manner. This constricted breath can set off a chain reaction in the body that can be harmful to your health in the long term.
On the other hand, when you learn to breathe better, you can use it to ease emotional problems. Yogic breathing techniques calm your nervous system. If for instance you had a stressful event, such as an argument at work, the memory of it can linger in your mind as you are trying to sleep. When you practice Yoga, you focus on the breath and movement, not the stressful situation, and are able to see things in perspective rather than let the situation rob you of sleep. If you breathe better during the day, you can breathe better at night.
"Breathing is the most fundamental thing we do as human beings"
Effective, proper breathing can be a healing tool for physical ailments. “When you’re older, things tend not to heal as quickly,” says Dr. Park. For this you need sound sleep and good breathing is essential for that. In addition, if you are recuperating from an illness or surgery, you need to relax during recovery to heal better. Dr. Park is a great proponent of holistic wellness practices that address the entire body, not just one aspect of it, such as restorative Yoga, which can be highly beneficial to healing.
Dr. Park does not agree with the idea that disease is inevitable as you get older: “The body is not designed to break down. It only breaks down because of all the things you do to it.”
Good health is in your hands and you can do far more for yourself than any medicine. “Don’t depend on the medical system to do it for you,” advises Dr. Park.
Editor’s note: Future articles will look at various aspects of breathing, common problems such as snoring and mouth-breathing and easy solutions, like the ancient practice of neti, which cleanses the nasal passages, and simple breathing techniques.