Is this the worlds most valuable substance? And it’s free?!!

Give yourself the gift of the worlds most valuable, energizing and free substance….Oxygen!

When asked what are the most important substances to humans for survival the usual answers are food and water. How long do you think you could last without food? Actually hang on, let’s re-phrase that. You are stuck on a desert island (not in the middle of the chocolate aisle in tesco!), how long do you think you could last without food if you had to? A few days? A week maybe? Depending on a few different factors the body could last without food for about a month and could last without water for a couple of days.

So yes, food and water are essential to body, but there is another substance that is even more crucial. And this can be demonstrated very easily, how long do you think you could survive if you held your breath, a couple of minute’s maybe? I would not like to see a plethora of bodies lying across the floor as a result of reading this article so for safety reasons please do not try this! Cells in our body actually start to die when we starve them of oxygen for as little as 3 minutes. But you get my point; oxygen is the world’s most valuable substance for us earthlings.

So why is it so crucial?

Oxygen is a crucial part of nearly all the chemical reactions that take place in our bodies enabling us to live. Oxygen fuels energy production, allows us to burn fat, decreases stress levels, detoxify, help us think clearer and many other things. So when we deplete our stores of oxygen we deprive our body of one of its most important building blocks placing great stress on the body.

As you already know we receive most of our oxygen from the air when we breathe. So all these benefits can be attained simply by breathing. Now I know what you’re about to say…

“But I breathe all the time, how can I be depleting my body of oxygen?!”

Good question. The answer is that unbeknown to most there are many different ways to breathe. If you watch a baby or an animal breathe you will see that their abdomens inflate as they breathe in and deflate as they breathe out. This is called breathing through the abdomen or diaphragmatic breathing and increases greatly the amount oxygen our body receives (the diaphragm is a muscle below the lungs that assists in breathing by opening up the rib cage). As we grow up many of us change the way we breathe until we are doing the complete opposite, instead of our belly expanding when we inhale it goes inwards. This ‘shallow breathing’ is not as beneficial as diaphragmatic breathing for a few reasons:

 As the name suggests, during shallow breathing the lungs aren’t fully utilised so the body receives a reduced amount of oxygen. This leads to a reduced capacity to perform all the aforementioned benefits (ability to burn body fat etc)

 Instead of fully using our diaphragm to help us breathe shallow breathing incorporates other accessory breathing muscles such as the muscles around the neck and shoulders. These muscles then get tight over time and can lead to a lot of soreness around the neck and shoulders and even tension headaches (the tight muscles can restrict blood flow to the small matter of your brain!)

 Have you ever noticed what happens to your breathing when you become frightened, stressed, anxious or really cold? The next time you experience it notice how you start to tighten up around the shoulders, your breathing rate starts to speed up and become a lot shallower. This is a survival mechanism built into us to cope with stressful situations. So if this is the way we breathe all the time our bodies constantly think we are in a stressful situation, placing more stress onto the body every time we breathe!
So why diaphragmatically breathe?

Diaphragmatic breathing has a completely different effect. Have you ever heard of the ‘count to 10’ method of stress reduction?! This works not because it improves our maths but because it forces us to reduce our rate of breathing and breathe more deeply. When we breathe slowly and deeply our bodies associate this with relaxation. Many things are then allowed to happen:

 Stress hormone levels are reduced allowing our body to repair itself more effectively. So recovery from injuries, exercise sessions and stressful situations among others happens much quicker. This can lead to better sport performance, increased muscle size/tone, increased energy levels, fat loss and much more. Your body cannot burn fat when it is constantly stressed.

 Oxygen can flow around the body so energy levels are more consistent.

 Increased ability to relax de-stress and unwind from a hectic day!

 Increased mental clarity increased productivity (you always think clearer when relaxed!)

 Better quality sleep. Have you ever had the feeling where you are exhausted yet can’t get to sleep? When we are constantly stressed we are pretty much running on empty. Our body still thinks we are running from a lion so stress hormones are still high yet we are exhausted so we experience the feeling of ‘wired and tired’. Diaphragmatic breathing allows the body to relax and therefore improves the quality of our sleep.

 Improves our pH balance further increasing our bodies ability to fight disease and burn body fat

So how do we diaphragmatically breathe?

– Stand or sit nice and tall
– Breathe in through your nose, relax your shoulders and let your belly expand.
– Breathe out and gently draw your belly button inwards

Tip: imagine there is a balloon in your stomach that your inflating with the air you breathe in so expands then deflates when you breathe out.

As I mentioned most people have conditioned themselves to breathe the other way so it is completely normal for this breathing technique to feel very strange at first. But stick with it the benefits are simply phenomenal

Alpha Action Points

– Find a nice quiet spot and treat yourself to five minutes a day of deep, slow diaphragmatic breathing

– Aim to increase it by 1minute a week

– If your mind races when you try to relax play your favourite gentle music while you do it.

– Note: You may feel a few strange benefits after your breathing session including energy increases, sense of calm and slight light headedness (this is because more oxygen is getting to your brain, it is actually used as a way to get ‘high’ in some night clubs!) Enjoy

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