What if I were to ask you to do a certain task 22,000 times a day every day for the next 90 years, would you take me up on the challenge? Can you think of a single piece of machinery or tech that would be up to that challenge?
Well, your lungs do it happily as you take roughly 22,000 breaths everyday of your life. But not all breaths are created equal. Many of us have become disconnected from our natural healthy breathing process. This is where Qigong breathing exercises come in handy!
Respiration is really quite an amazing process, it is one of the only bodily processes that can be done both consciously and unconsciously. Think about that for a second. You can’t suddenly make your liver, spleen, kidney or heart suddenly stop what they are doing, but you can hold your breath….. at least for a bit.
All of our organs happily go about their day doing the work they are designed to do. Whether it's recycling red blood cells in the spleen, processing urine in the kidneys, filtering blood in the liver or pumping blood through the heart. Yes, even your lungs keep on breathing whether you’re aware of it or not.
What controls our unconscious breathing?
When you are not consciously aware and in control of your breathing, the respiratory centers of your medulla and pons located in your brainstem are the autopilot that are in control. These are the little dudes that make sure you don’t stop breathing when you’re asleep or zoning out watching netflix.
However, your conscious mind can take over at any given moment and change things up dramatically. It’s a switchover that happens instantaneously. Most people spend 95% of their waking life on autopilot. Very little time of their day is spent consciously and mindfully connected to the moment. It's really amazing how much of our lives we spend mentally trapped in the past or reeling in the future.
If it wasn’t for our little pons and medulla we would have passed out and keeled over ages ago. Now one of our problems is that we are a creature of habit. Good and bad! If we have the habit of taking stressed, shallow breaths, our brain quickly programs that behaviour into our autopilot. As I always say, disease is a product of behaviour.
What muscles control our breathing?
The diaphragm is a layer of muscle that lies just below our lungs. As the diaphragm contracts, it forces the lung to expand fully, drawing air down, filling the lungs completely. The problem is, most of us are completely disconnected from our own diaphragm and therefore use what's called a shallow tidal breath instead.
A shallow tidal breath is performed by using the accessory muscles instead of the diaphragm. The intercostal muscles between the ribs, the levator scapula as well as scalene are designed to be helpful bystanders, not first responders when it comes to the breathing process.
How do the lungs take in oxygen?
You can visualize the inside structure of the lung as two trees of grapes. 480,000,000 grapes that is. Those 480 million grape-shaped structures called alveoli are the sacks that exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide between your blood and the outside world.
Remember, the lower the ph in a solution the more acidic it is. Whereas the higher the ph, the more alkaline it is. Our body likes our blood to be just slightly on the alkaline side of the midpoint of the scale, which is “7”. So our blood typically sits at 7.4 on the acid/base scale.
The body needs that slightly alkaline internal environment for it to thrive. When the body becomes too acidic, inflammation and degeneration result.
This is why breathing diaphragmatically is so important. When we breathe shallowly, carbon dioxide starts to build up in the body and because carbon dioxide has a pH of 5.6, it starts to make the blood acidic. Remember we like to be slightly alkaline! Oxygen on the other hand has a pH of 7.4….. Aaaahhh just how we like it!
Once again Qigong to the rescue!
What is Qigong Breathing
Qigong exercises incorporate a breathing pattern called “Beating and Drumming the Qi”. Effectively, this is a long slow, even, extended diaphragmatic breath. Even without moving a muscle, this breathing pattern is incredibly healing.
As the Qigong practitioner breathes in through their nose, the stomach is allowed to relax and expand. This immediately creates a connection to the diaphragm muscle. Then as they breathe out through their mouth, the stomach is pulled in tightly to force all the air from the lungs.
This type of breathing facilitates several positive physiological changes;
- Breathing in through the nose warms and moistens the air, making it easier for the lungs to take it in.
- Breathing out through the mouth quickly releases the buildup of pressure and tension in the chest cavity, causing the mind and body in turn to relax.
- As the diaphragm contracts on inhalation, the muscle flattens which creates an increase in space in the chest cavity. This change is what creates the vacuum that pulls air into the lungs. As the muscle relaxes, it returns to its dome shape which forces the air back out. All this serves to properly oxygenate the body.
The pressure of the diaphragm on the abdominal contents stimulates peristaltic movement through the digestive tract, improving digestion of food and eliminating waste.
- Lowers blood pressure.
- Slows heart rate.
- Switches the nervous system from fight or flight to rest, digest and heal.
Calms the mind.
Whether you're doing a morning qigong program or an evening qigong program or simply standing in place with the focus completely on posture and breath, Qigong breathing exercises heal the mind and body from the very first breath...Give it a try!
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