September 22, 2021, Publisher: Breath Hub
Celebrated on 25 September, World Lung Day highlights the importance of the health of our lungs, which are hard at work 24/7. Think about it. We can survive without food for 2 months, without water for 3 days but without breathing? Only a few minutes. So, what do we need to do for the health of this vital organ? On top of breathing clean air, staying away from smoking, and doing physical exercise, daily breathwork also helps us protect, improve, and strengthen our lungs.
Our lungs keep us alive by bringing fresh oxygen into our veins and sending carbon dioxide out of them. As we age, the lungs function less efficiently, and the vital capacity of the lungs begins to decrease. Diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), respiratory tract infections, and asthma significantly accelerate this decrease. Other factors such as smoking or air pollution also negatively affect the way lungs function, leading to breathing problems and shortness of breath.
When our lungs deteriorate, breathing is not the only difficulty we experience. From our muscles to our brain, each and every cell in our body needs oxygen. Long story short, we need to look after our lungs to maintain a healthy body and a healthy mind. So if you’re feeling out of breath after climbing a few stairs or have trouble achieving mental clarity, it may be high time you took better care of your lungs.
But, here’s the good news! It’s possible to keep our lungs healthy and provide our bodies with the oxygen it needs with the help of breathing exercises. So, let’s see how breathwork can nurse our lungs back to health.
Lung function is determined by the respiratory rate and our level of utilizing the oxygen in the air we breathe. If we are breathing too fast, it can be because our lungs are not working as efficiently as they are supposed to.
Scientific research has shown that learning breathing techniques can improve lung function significantly. Breathing slowly allows the air we breathe to stay in the lungs longer and therefore buy oxygen some more time to circulate through the bloodstream. And this means more oxygen – and better lung performance – with less breath.
Lung capacity, or vital capacity, is the maximum amount of air expelled from the lungs in one respiratory cycle. It’s an essential element for a person’s respiratory health as a healthy vital capacity makes it easier to rid your body of carbon dioxide and bring in oxygen.
Scientific research shows that breathwork can significantly improve the vital capacity of the lungs even in 4 short days. Extended exhales provide the necessary pressure for the lungs to stretch. Also, becoming stronger with slow and deep breaths, the respiratory muscles play an important role in increasing the capacity.
Breathwork not only increases the vital capacity of lungs and improves lung function but is also highly effective against respiratory diseases, research shows. But, how exactly?
Asthma and especially COPD decrease the elasticity of our lungs. They expand as we inhale but can no longer go back to normal as we exhale, causing the air to be trapped in the lungs. In time, ‘old’ air accumulates in the lungs and leaves less room for fresh oxygen – resulting in lower oxygen levels. Regular breathwork helps the lungs expel the trapped air and bring oxygen back to optimum levels.
In addition, the increased vital capacity of the lungs and improvement in lung function help improve the quality of life significantly by relieving some symptoms of COPD and asthma, such as shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing, and fatigue after physical activity.
It may look simple, but this exercise requires time to master. That’s why we advise against practising it for the first time while experiencing shortness of breath. Practise this exercise 5 to 10 minutes on days you’re feeling comfortable. Giving you better control over your breath, pursed-lip breathing relieves shortness of breath and improves breathing by keeping the airways open for longer. British Lung Foundation and American Lung Association recommend pursed-lip breathing to help with the symptoms of diseases like asthma and COPD.
With this exercise, the parasympathetic nervous system activity , the recovery mode of the body, will become dominant and help you calm down and relax.