As a yoga teacher and student, I spend a lot of time thinking about breath, which may not seem surprising. But that I spend almost as much time thinking about breath as a nutritionist, might be.
Why would a nutritionist think about the breath? Because it's a such a powerful tool in detoxifying the body. The body has multiple systems to eliminate impurities and toxins, including: the skin, colon, kidneys, liver, lymphatic system, blood and the lungs.
Did you know that the average person breathes in 8000-9000 liters of air each day! And that the lungs are the only internal organ that is exposed to the outside world? And that the lungs are composed of tiny air sacs, called alveoli, and that if these were spread out in a single layer, one lung would cover a tennis court? Or that the lungs expand and contract due to a jelly-fish shaped muscle called the diaphragm?
How does diaphragmatic breathing (also called deep breathing or a 3 part breath) detoxify and restore our bodies?
-Deep breathing stimulates the lymph nodes and assists lymph drainage (think of the lymphatic system like the sewage system of the body, where debris and toxins are collected and then eliminated). In fact, it increases the rate of elimination as much as 15 times!
-When the diaphragm moves up and down in deep breathing, it stimulates the vagus nerve, which houses many of the parasympathetic nervous systems' fibers. This is important because the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the 'rest and digest' response. When we are able to digest we absorb more nutrients to build and protect our bodies and when we can rest, our bodies are given a chance to repair. -Deep breathing assists the circulatory system, improving blood circulation, another major channel of elimination and detoxification.
So, how do we practice diaphragmatic breathing? I found it helpful when I was first learning to lie on my back and place one hand on my lower belly and one hand on my ribcage. Begin by slowing down the breath and relaxing the mind, using the nostrils to breath. Then take an inhale sending the breath down into the lower belly, feeling the hand rising up, keep inhaling and now fill the ribcage with air, feeling the sides of the ribs expand, and finally feel the top of the lungs, the upper chest fill with air. Exhale, reversing the flow. So, upper chest empties, then side ribs, then lower belly. If it's helpful, imagine filling a balloon. Inhale, sending breath down to the bottom of the balloon, filling the lower belly, then the side ribs and up to the top, a full balloon. Exhale, top of the balloon, chest deflates, then side ribs contract and finally lower belly, almost squeezes the last of the air out. You can begin with a 4 second inhale count and a 4 second exhale count and as your lung capacity increases you can gradually lengthen each, keeping the length of the inhale the same as the exhale.
That's it, your diaphragmatically breathing and using one of most natural and simple ways to cleanse your body and detoxify your system. Practice daily for best effect, in the morning to centre and focus yourself for the day ahead and in the evening to help calm the nervous system and promote a good sleep.