You probably have a vague sense that breathing better is good for you, even if you’re not exactly sure why or how to go about working on your breath. No matter what brings you to this topic, knowing how breath stands to improve the quality of your life is a great motivator. After all, working on your breath isn’t easy to fit into today’s busy-every-minute-of-the-day-except-for-personal-screen-time lifestyle. Yet, it can also be a life-changing habit that’s easy to do in small doses and in nearly situation that doesn’t already demand your immediate attention. And so, here’s a brief exploration of why breathing better is important.
The breath is one of the strongest and most intimate connections between the mind and the body. Now, that sounds like a bunch of hooey, but it’s also a bunch of commonsense. When you get excited, the breath quickens. When you need to calm down, what’s the best way to do it? Take a deep breath.
We also like to think of breath as the signals that are carried between the brain and the heart—with blood as the messenger. As your lungs deliver more oxygen into the blood stream, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to get your brain and the rest of your body the oxygen it needs. Your brain works more effectively, and you tend to make better decisions and think more clearly. Along with oxygen-rich blood, stronger breath also means a stronger pelvic floor and a healthier gut overall.
Okay, okay. That’s great, but what about the specific health benefits and individual systems of the body stand to benefit most? Yogis may sometimes talk about “sending your breath down to your feet and toes, or up to your head or crown.” This can a wonderful thought exercise to unlock both respiratory and callisthenic gains, but it’s not literally happening. Working to breathe better can help to improve your health in a holistic way, but it’s likely to have more direct and substantial benefits for mental health, heart health, and digestive health than, say, a sprained ankle or a skin rash.
Generalized back pain, too, is a great example of something that’s likely to benefit from breathing better. Almost anything that’s located in the body’s core will benefit from improved breath. Well, except, that is for acute conditions and injuries. You can’t breathe your way out of a case of appendicitis, for example. On the other hand, if you’re thinking that all the most important stuff is located either in the torso or the head and neck, well you’re kind of right (with all due respect to limbs and, you know, being able to move around and do stuff).