In general, the human organism was not designed to breathe deeply at all times and in all situations. The depth of our breath, whether it is shallow, medium, or deep depends in large part on what it is we are doing. If we are sitting quietly reading, for example, we do not need to be breathing deeply. If we are working hard and expending a great deal of energy, however, we might well need to breathe deeply. Another situation in which deep breathing can be beneficial is when we are trying to revitalise our energy.
Deep breathing can be important to both health and spiritual development. Such breathing can increase our vitality and promote relaxation. Unfortunately, when we try to take a so-called deep breath, many of us do the exact opposite: we suck in our bellies, raise our shoulders, and try to expand our chest. This is shallow breathing. To learn deep breathing we need to do far more than learn new breathing exercises. Before deep breathing exercises can be of any lasting value, we need to experience and understand through the direct inner sensation of our own bodies the function of the chest muscles and diaphragm in breathing, as well as the function of the belly and back. We also need to observe how unnecessary tension in our muscles impedes our breathing.
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped structure that not only assists in breathing, but also acts as a natural partition between our heart and lungs on the one hand, and all of the other internal organs on the other. The top of the diaphragm, located about one and one-half inches up from the bottom of the sternum, actually supports the heart, while the bottom of the diaphragm is attached all the way around our lower ribs and connects also to our lower lumbar vertebrae. When we breathe, the surface of our diaphragm generally moves downward as we inhale and upward as we exhale. When we breathe fully and deeply, which is only possible when the belly releases and expands on inhalation and retracts on exhalation, the diaphragm moves farther down into the abdomen, and our lungs are able to expand more completely into the chest cavity. This means that more oxygen is taken in and more carbon dioxide is released with each breath. Of course, if we breathe both deeply and relatively quickly, we could lose too much carbon dioxide too quickly, which can cause us to over breathe or hyperventilate.
Deep breathing, when it is easy, natural, and necessary, can have a beneficial influence on our health and well being. To understand how this happens, we need to remember that the diaphragm is attached all around the lower ribcage and has strands going down to the lumbar vertebrae. When our breathing is full and deep, the diaphragm moves through its entire range downward to massage the liver, stomach, and other organs and tissues below it, and upward to massage the heart. When our breathing is full and deep, the belly, lower ribcage, and lower back all expand on inhalation, thus drawing the diaphragm down deeper into the abdomen, and retract on exhalation, allowing the diaphragm to move fully upward toward the heart. In deep, abdominal breathing, the downward and upward movements of the diaphragm, combined with the outward and inward movements of the belly, ribcage, and lower back, help to massage and detoxify our inner organs, promote blood flow and peristalsis, and pump the lymph more efficiently through our lymphatic system. The lymphatic system, which is an important part of our immune system, has no pump other than muscular movements, including the movements of breathing.
As you begin to observe your breathing in the course of your everyday life, you may notice that you often breathe too fast for the conditions in which you find yourself, that is, you actually hyperventilate. This fast, shallow breathing expels carbon dioxide too quickly and has many bad effects on our physical and emotional health. When our breathing is deeper, when it involves in an appropriate way not only the respiratory muscles of the chest but also the belly, lower ribcage, and lower, middle and upper back, our breathing normally slows down. This slower, deeper breathing, combined with the rhythmical pumping of our diaphragm, abdomen, and belly, helps turn on our parasympathetic nervous system--our "relaxation response." Such breathing helps to harmonise our nervous system and reduce the amount of stress in our lives. And this, of course, has a positive impact on our overall health.
By incorporating these breathing techniques into your inspiratory muscle training programme you will help strengthen your respiratory muscles.