There are so many things we take for granted simply because our conscious minds and thoughts are of limited capacity. We are at the top of the heap in the mammal kingdom, yet we have to admit, we can’t do everything. When we think of any one thing, it’s to the exclusion of almost everything else. We may think we are good at multitasking, however our focus becomes diffused and we become mediocre at best. We can’t muster the same level of energy towards what may be the primary outcome we are looking for.
It parallels the concept that says, “the more we know, the more we know we don’t know.” As soon as we become certain about a particular truth or fact, it opens the door to a whole larger set of questions that makes our ignorance or “unknowingness” apparent.
A friend shared with me today, that he went in for an eye procedure and thought he’d have to take it easy for a day, but the doctors informed him that he wouldn’t be able to drive for a week and in addition, he wouldn’t be able to look at computer screens or the television for the same amount of time. Wow.
To unexpectedly have to give up eyesight for a day or a week or longer, would greatly increase the awareness of how powerful this one sense is! So today, if you have your eyesight, if you have the sense of smell, taste, touch and hearing, then we can begin to appreciate the faculties we have that we just wake up in the morning and use without a second thought. If you haven’t started a gratitude practice this might be a good day to begin.
Breathing is a peculiar function. We breathe rather unconsciously yet we have full control over this function should we decide to “practice” breathing. I encourage you to practice breathing.
There are many, many ways to breathe. In the yogic sciences, breathing is central to health and wellbeing. We may agree that you can go weeks without food, days without water, but only a few minutes without breathing. So by inference, we can easily discern that breathing is absolutely essential to life itself, yet we don’t “practice.” Why? Is there a better way to breathe?
Let’s start with some basics:
1) Nasal breathing or mouth breathing. Is there a difference?
There are several life altering things that happen when we breathe. We know we are imbibing oxygen needed for survival but we are also releasing carbon dioxide and getting rid of unwanted material. Interestingly, trees and plants release oxygen and imbibe carbon dioxide. We are supplying carbon dioxide to the plant kingdom and then in turn we are supplied with oxygen.
If we practice nasal breathing, we are creating a little known molecule called nitric oxide. It was discovered by Louis Ignarro and in 1998, he was conferred the Nobel Prize in biology. (Not to be confused with nitrous oxide which is also called laughing gas used by dentists.) Nitric oxide gas only exists for a few seconds and then dissipates. Yet the function of nitric oxide is to relax the arterial vessels. This is important to the cardiovasculature. By increasing nitric oxide in the system, one result is lower blood pressure, important if you are the subject of hypertension. When the arteries become stiff and hardened, bad things can happen. If the arteries remain flexible, strength and vitality happen. It’s a sustaining life force.
Mouth breathing does not create any nitric oxide at all. Nasal breathing uses a complex filtration system that catches impurities and doesn’t allow them to enter further into the body. Having a good immune system stops many of the toxins and carcinogens from entering the respiratory system, if you nasal breath. EpiCor has been clinically tested and shown to increase natural killers (NK) cells in the nasal passages by 60% within two hours of taking your first capsule. Prevention of course is ten times better than a cure. Let’s be preventionists!
The biohackers of the world advocate “mouth taping” at night with good reason. If your nasal passages are under utilized, they can grow lethargic. Snoring and sleep apnea can ensue. Strengthening the habit of nasal breathing is an important practice to utilize as we grow older. We want to avoid sleep apnea and the practice is simple.
I’ve been practicing nasal breathing, being more aware and using some mouth taping at night to promote the practice while I sleep. Currently, I mouth tape six nights and then see how I am progressing on the seventh night by not taping. I am happy to report that my nasal breathing has improved substantially at night as I am not dried out in the morning which is as good a gauge as any for assessing progress. There is intelligence in every cell of the body and our autonomic nervous system can also be trained to get better results from simple practices.
Since I have familial high risk factors for heart disease, it is important to me to create as much nitric oxide as I can in my system. This exploration has helped me to discover a 4 minute exercise routine that I repeat two or three times per day as “nitric oxide dump.”
Nitric oxide is involved in many cell processes, including the widening of the blood vessels, or vasodilation. Wider blood vessels help increase the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to working muscles during exercise, thus enhancing exercise performance.
Watch the Video 4 Minute Nitric Oxide Dump:
Here’s a written article that prescribes a similar routine:
The benefits of this workout include:
1-Boosts Heart Health by stimulating your body’s release of nitric oxide.
2-Only takes 4-5 minutes two to three times per day so it easily fits into busy schedules.
3-Only involves 4 movements done in repetitions of 10 sets.
4-Reduces stiff arteries and resting heart rate in those with Type 2 Diabetes.
5-Helps with producing more HDL Cholesterol, aiding in Weight Loss, and even improves insulin sensitivity.
We know we know, this sounds almost way too good to be true but this routine actually targets all 16 of the largest muscle groups which equals a serious full body workout in minimal time. The ability for our bodies to regenerate nitric oxide every couple of hours make it achieveale to do this routine 2-3 times per day for best results.
So what does this routine entail?
Simply only breathing through your nose, all done in 3 sets of 10 (It’s suggested to sart with 10 and work your way up to 20 reps per set)
1-Squats (optional with a medicine ball)
2-Alternating arm raises stopping at shoulder height (Tin man)
3-Double side arm raises (Jumping jacks without the jump)
4-Double overhead press (Military Press)
2) Shallow breathing or belly breaths
We don’t get out much these days. In past generations, we lived outdoors and worked generally from sunrise to sunset in the fields and forests. Today we are mostly at desks using technology to organize data.
The percentage of weekend warriors who are hitting the trail heads compared to the general population is very low yet physical activity is associated with decreased mortality rate, even among those who are active one or two days a week.. We are hunched over a keyboard or eating cookies on the couch watching TV and only breathing with our upper chests using shallow breaths. Muscles that aren’t used atrophy (gradually decline in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect.) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6295264/)
You’ve probably heard the term “diaphragmatic breathing” or belly breathing, which saxophone players, opera singers or any other breathing instrument artists must employ to make beautiful sound. (See Bonus Gut Health Tip below – We can all hmmmmm.)
Deep breathing is useful in a variety of situations: Natural delivery (Lamaze Method), Yoga and Meditation (Pranayama), even Seal Team Training (Box breathing). Even orators or great public speakers use breath to enhance emotion.
The diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle at the base of the lungs, plays an important role in breathing — though you may not be aware of it. When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts (tightens) and moves downward. This creates more space in your chest cavity, allowing the lungs to expand. When you exhale, the opposite happens — your diaphragm relaxes and moves upward in the chest cavity.
All of us are born with the knowledge of how to fully engage the diaphragm to take deep, refreshing breaths. As we get older, however, we get out of the habit. Everything from the stresses of everyday life to the practice of “sucking in” the stomach for a trimmer waistline encourages us to gradually shift to shallower, less satisfying “chest breathing.”
Relearning how to breathe from the diaphragm is beneficial for everyone. Diaphragmatic breathing (also called “abdominal breathing” or “belly breathing”) encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, this type of breathing slows the heartbeat and can lower or stabilize blood pressure.
Slowing down the breath to relax, destress and compensate for a frantic lifestyle: The vagus nerve which is the longest nerve system in the body controls much of the autonomic nervous system. This complex system runs from the brain to every organ in the body. It has been called the master switch between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Sympathetic means a high sense of stress as in fight or flight and parasympathetic is a sense of rest and being enabled to digest.
So don’t eat on the run. You may satisfy the cravings of the mouth, but the food entering your stomach will not start the digestive process until you’ve relaxed a bit.
Yet, the breath can control the switch almost instantly. If you are anxious and nervous, what do people tell you to do? “Breathe, remember to breathe.” Long, deep breaths tell your nervous system that you are safe and it’s okay to relax. Short, shallow breaths incites cortisol which sparks adrenaline and epinephrine, just in case you need to run, or take flight from imminent danger. When you are in survival mode, digestion takes a back seat, energy is more needed elsewhere.
Most of us lean sympathetic, just because of our cell phones, and televisions, and 24 news cycles, our work schedules, not learning to disassociate and change gears from leaving work and entering the home. Stop, take a deep breath, find a soothing thought, a piece of gratitude, a hope to look forward to and above all, find a joy in your heart you can share with those around you. And hum.
Gut Health Tip of the Day:
The vagus nerve passes through the vocal cords. So whenever you utter sounds whether talking or singing, the vagus nerve is stimulated to some degree. Humming is especially important and helpful since it sends strong vibrations through your throat and vocal cords. Humming requires slowing down the breath, slowing down inhalations and extending exhalations. This is powerful medicine for the gut in order to be able to digest properly and calm yourself. Doesn’t matter what you are doing, cleaning the house, preparing dinner, driving or showering, humming helps. Some sounds that are especially helpful mmmm, ahhh, ooh. The same effect is felt when chanting a mantra like “ommmmm.” M is the middle of the alphabet, it’s easy to hmmm your way to better health! Here’s a great video that is easy to hum along with and guaranteed to help you feel calm instantly.
Book Recommendation: As mentioned before, this is available at most local libraries – Breath by James Nestor.