It’s a known fact that morning exercises are good for our body and overall health; however, not everybody knows about the benefits of breathing exercises (also called respiratory gymnastics). Although such exercises are usually associated with yoga practices, this type of gymnastics is a variant of an aerobic training with a number of advantages.
So, how exactly can breathing exercises benefit our body and especially our blood vessels and heart?
The Benefits of Breathing Exercises
The functioning of the cardiovascular system depends on the condition of the pulmonary system and the level of oxygen in the blood. The techniques that involve breath-holding and long breaths promote the following changes in the body and cardiovascular system:
- Deep breathing helps the heart to free itself from the excessive pressure caused by the diaphragm and lungs;
- Heart cells and blood get maximum oxygenation;
- Breathing exercises improve the filling of the heart with blood and increase the volume of the lungs;
- They regulate heart rate, provide good training for the cardiovascular system and soothe the nervous system;
- They provide enhancement of the respiratory metabolism.
Moreover, breathing exercises can cause improvement of certain cardiovascular diseases:
- Face and leg swelling associated with heart failure is reduced thanks to increased cardiac output and improved heart performance;
- In hypertension, hypoxia that happens during long and deep exhalations can widen the blood vessels and by doing that it can reduce the pressure produced on the vascular walls. This effect results in normalization of the levels of blood pressure and prevention of their recurrent increase. Slow breathing has been showed to lower blood pressure in people with mild to moderate hypertension and in patients with resistant hypertension;
- In cardiac patients, such exercises can help treat arrhythmia and tachycardia;
- Widening of the coronary vessels and a normal supply of blood to the heart can help cope with persistent episodes of angina.
The Limitations of Respiratory Gymnastics
Despite all the benefits of breathing exercises, like any other physical activity, they can have some limitations and even contraindications:
- Mental illnesses;
- Acute vein inflammation associated with blood clots;
- Myocardial infarction;
- Brain injuries;
- Uncontrolled and too high blood pressure;
- Some injuries of the spine;
- Evident degenerative disk disorder, etc.
In all the above cases, it’s better to ask your doctor to choose the best set of breathing exercises that will benefit your condition and provide no harm.
When practicing respiratory gymnastics, experts recommend watching over your pulse. If when you’ve finished your exercise, your pulse is more rapid, it means that this very exercise isn’t for you, so you should immediately stop doing it. It’s believed to be normal that after respiratory gymnastics the pulse becomes strong and deep, but it shouldn’t rise too high. After an exercise session, it’s also recommended to check your blood pressure.
The intensity of breathing exercises should be gradually increased so that the body has enough time to adapt.
How to Perform Diaphragmatic Breathing
There are two basic variants of breathing – shallow or chest breathing and abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing. When you use the first option, the air gets only in the upper part of the lungs; therefore, you get less oxygen. But when taking deep breaths using the diaphragm, the air that comes through the nose can fill the lungs completely, and that expands abdomen, not the chest.
To learn how to breathe deeply using your diaphragm, use the following steps:
- You should find a quiet and comfortable place. Lie on your back (your knees should be slightly bent, you can use a pillow under your knees to be more comfortable) and put a pillow under your head. Place one of your hands below your rib cage and the other on your upper chest. Such position of your body will help you feel the movement of your diaphragm when you breathe.
- Take a deep and slow breath through your nose and feel as your abdomen rises against your hand, let it fully expand. The hand that is on the chest should be as still as possible.
- Breathe out through your mouth while tightening your abdominal muscles and letting them fall inward. Your chest should stay as still as possible.
- Alternate your normal breaths and deep breaths. Pay attention to how you feel when breathing normally (chest breathing) and when using diaphragmatic breathing. Chest breathing often feels constricted and tense, whereas deep breathing provides relaxation.
- Now practice deep breathing for several minutes.
Once you have mastered the diaphragmatic breathing technique, you can try practicing it for 10 minutes while sitting relaxed in a chair, and then gradually increase the time to 20 minutes.
You may discover that you need an increased effort to use diaphragm correctly. In the beginning, you can get tired while doing such breathing. But persist in breathing like that, since with continued practice this type of breathing exercise will become automatic and easy.