Taking in a breath of air is probably thought of, by most, as an innate action that all of us just do and have done since birth. It is not a learned activity that has to be taught or figured out, like tying your shoes or riding a bike. We just do this instinctively, but are we doing it the right way or maybe more succinctly put, can we do it better?
This report is going to focus on some strategies on how to improve your breathing such as, foods, vitamins and breathing exercises to improve lung capacity as well as essential oils for breathing.
Why Is Breathing Important?
We are all aware of the importance of proper nourishment that our our bodies require to sustain life. Clean food and water are paramount to our survival as a species. It’s a given fact that the body cannot persevere without water for a few days or food after a few weeks. But what about the air we breathe in? Without that we would reach a life imperiling situation in a matter of minutes.
So, before we explore how to breathe in a manner that best suits our well-being, lets examine some aspects of bodily function and anatomy in terms of breathing.
The Autonomic Nervous System
The autonomic nervous system is a part of our nervous system that manages and regulates internal organs without recognition of consciousness of effort by the body. It consists of two opposing sets of nerves, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
- The sympathetic nervous system adjoins the internal organs to the brain by spinal nerves, which when activated, makes preparations for the body to deal with stress by increasing the heart rate, increasing blood flow to the muscles, and decreasing blood flow to the skin.
- The parasympathetic nervous system is the the involuntary nervous system that aids in slowing heart rate, increasing intestinal and glandular activity, and relaxing the sphincter muscles.
The respiratory control centers that control breathing are located in the brainstem, also known as the medulla oblongata. The activity of these respiratory centers can be influenced by a number of factors such as, Oxygen, Carbon dioxide and Hydrogen ions (PH). read more here
This facet of our nervous system governs our breathing habits beneath the veil of our conscience awareness. Which is to say, our breathing is automatic.
Techniques And Tips On How To Breathe Efficiently
Unlike the involuntary subconscious (autonomic) breathing which is typically shallow and feeble, conscious breathing is a method of keeping air going in and out of your body more successfully and reliably with relative ease. This means consciously training yourself to take deeper more fuller breathes.
To maximize a full inhalation of breath, you need go beyond just taking a deep breath into your chest and rib area. A full breath requires getting your stomach involved in the process. When you take that deep breath allow it to expand through the abdomen into the belly so that it completely inflates to the fullest extent. In fact, when taking a deep inhalation in this manner, there should be very little movement in your shoulders and rib area, if any at all. This can be a great stress/trauma response measure. source
Now, the average autonomic breathes taken every minute are about 12 (give or take). Taking these deeper breathes in such a way (as mentioned above) is where the well-being factor comes into play. Why? The lymphatic system has a direct connection to the diaphragm. When the diaphragm is moving in a more energetic mode of high volume, the lymphatic system can then pump more immensely. In old medical literature, the diaphragm was referred to as the great lymph pump.
In the last 150 years many strides have been made in how to the diaphragm and lymph system work together and how it can better serve for optimum wellness. It has come to be known over that time that increased activity in the diaphragm serves to pump blood to the lymph nodes toward the heart with greater vitality. One such man who understood and practiced this knowledge was John Harvey Kellogg. source
An interesting piece of history:
In 1893 John Harvey Kellogg wrote a book titled “The Art of Massage.” Who is John Harvey Kellogg? He was a medical doctor and was an extremely energetic individual. Kellogg practiced a system of health referred to as biologic living. The first thing that likely comes to ones mind regarding the word “Kellogg” is Kellogg’s Cereal of which John Harvey Kellogg was the founder.
Back then his cereal was made from fermented grains and was far more healthy for the gut due to the digestive enzymes and probiotic properties. It wasn’t until his brother took over the company that sugars, preservatives and other additives were introduced and has evolved into what Kellogg’s cereal is today.
Kellogg’s regimen for optimum health was very sound in many areas, but also questionable in others by his contemporaries and those who both practice conventional and naturopathic medicine today. In addition, it is worth mentioning that, although he was deeply religious man, many of those who have probed into his biographical history would find there is much purported suggesting that he also had a disturbingly tainted past. read more here
For the purpose of relevance, we will focus on Kellogg’s book “The Art of Massage: A Practical Manual for the Nurse, the Student and the Practitioner.” Contained is a chapter titled “Special Movements and Breathing Exercises.” Kellogg would give special instructions to his massage patients regarding proper breathing as to how one should be made to conduct special breathing exercises. He goes on to mention that all sedentary persons can benefit from such exercises and how deep breathing is a great aid in gastric digestion.
Kellogg explains that those who suffer from symptoms of slow digestion can reduce those symptoms by applying these deep breathing movements. Also, he indicates that when one is postured in relaxed position with the shoulders forward and chest flattened, the muscles connecting the lower ribs and the sternum to the pelvic bone are loose as opposed to the chest raised in a high position.
A chest raised upward and outward will make the abdominal muscles tight. When the chest and shoulders are angled forward in this way, the diaphragm cannot constrain the liver, stomach and other organs. This form of breathing that was coined at the time by many writers as “abdominal breathing.” Kellogg describes this in his own words as “a great error.” He exclaims that many have done themselves actual injury by leaving the chest inactive while swelling the abdominal muscles.
Kellogg also asserts that the most effective type of deep breathing and in addition, that which influences the stomach, liver and abdominal organs in the strongest way, is when the chest is lifted high while taking a deep breathe and holding that position until the breathing process is completed. He quotes: “this is what the singing masters called – setting the chest.”
There is a section in this chapter that lays out a breathing exercise regimen for those who have sedentary (desk jobs ect…). He explains therein, that because the posture of (for example) a desk worker is confined to a forward position with the chest flat and relaxing the abdominal muscles for extended periods, that much of the blood needed in the muscles and brain go into the vascular area and becomes stagnant. The blood accumulating then loses it’s oxygen.
In the audio below Dr. Phil Meyers talks more about Kellogg and the importance of mindful breathing.
Audio: From the John Moore Show with Dr. Phil Meyers 12/22/2017 – Tip of the day/breathing through your body properly (at the 3:40 mark)
Improving Your Lung Capacity
Vitamins and foods for improved lung health:
- Vitamin D – There are studies that have been published in recent years demonstrating how vitamin D has shown substantial improvements in symptoms of Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) read more here and get vitamin D3 here (4.8 star customer reviews)
- Water – Water is essential in keeping the blood circulating to and from the lungs. Also it keeps the lungs hydrated which makes it easier for the cilia to move the mucus along with toxins pollutants and other impurities out.
- Garlic and Onions – Great for the lungs via the fact they reduce inflammation and fight infection.
- Ginger – A spice that also yields anti-inflammatory properties and promotes the elimination of pollutants from the lungs.
- Chili Peppers – Capsaicin (the active compound in chili peppers) improves blood flow, stimulates mucus membranes, and fights infection. see my previous post on chili peppers
- Cruciferous Vegetables – Vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, are highly renowned for their anti-tumor properties due to antioxidant compounds like sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol.
- Pomegranates – Pomegranate juice promotes the remission of lung tumor growth and contains many antioxidants including ellagic acid, which has indicated positive results in cancer research.
- Turmeric – This cousin of the ginger family contains curcumin, a compound that encourages the self-destruction of cancer cells. See: the recommended section in the right sidebar on the benefits of turmeric
- Apples – Apples are rich in vitamin E, and vitamin C and all help the lungs function at their best. Eating several apples a week can have fortifying benefits for the lungs. Read more on my post on the bananacado apple smoothie recipe for more on the cancer fighting benefits of apples
- Grapefruit – Grapefruits contain the flavanoid naringin and inhibits the activation of cancer causing enzymes. While white grapefruits contain a high amount of this flavonoid, pink grapefruits have some too along with the antioxidant lycopene. Grapefruits can be highly effective in cleansing the lungs.
- Beans, Seeds, and Nuts – These foods are all rich in magnesium, a mineral that contributes to healthy lung function. The essential fatty acids also provide for good cardiovascular benefits.
- Mushrooms – Mushrooms contain a compound called beta-glucans. Studies have shown that these polysaccharides can help deliver cancer-killing immune cells directly into a tumor. Others sources of beta-glucans include baker’s yeast, oats and barley.
- Green tea – Many Asian cultures consume green tea and the cancer rates in those regions of the world are much lower than here in the US. This has inspired scientists to focus research on a compound in green tea called EGCG, which may slow down and inhibit the growth of tumors. Studies have indicated that green tea may help protect against lung cancer (even among smokers).
- Salmon (served with garlic and black beans) – Recent research has shown that salmon (because of of it’s vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acid content) may help protect against lung cancer. The American Institute of Cancer has published a cancer-busting recipe that combines salmon along with other cancer fighting foods such as garlic and black beans.
Exercise tips to expand lung capacity:
Below are a few exercise techniques for expanding lung capacity.
Exercises for deep breathing:
- The “Mother Breath” technique: This is done by slowly inhaling through the nose for 7 seconds. Hold the breath for 1 second, then slowly exhale through your mouth, with your lips contracted (so there is some resistance), for 7 seconds. Hold for 1 second and repeat the progression. In another variation of this, try lying on your back on your bed with a pillow or cushion behind your neck and under your knees. Position your hands on your stomach just below the rib cage and inhale deeply, allowing for the full expansion in the stomach to push your fingers open. Exhale slowly letting the stomach deflate smoothly. This will retain the air in your lungs for a longer period of time, creating a condition of expansion and improved capacity.
- Exercising under water: Once you have settled on an exercise regimen that you are comfortable with (stretching, lifting weights ect…) then move your program into the water, submerging yourself up to your neck. While undergoing your exercise routine in this way, the water puts pressure on your body and restricts blood flow to the chest. This will induce your body to work harder to receive air and in so doing, your lung capacity will improve over time.
- Chinese breath exercise: This involves specific arm movements with shorter breathes. This consists of 3 sharp inhalations without exhaling:
- On the first inhalation, raise your arms in front of you parallel to your shoulders
- On the second inhalation, (keeping your arms at the same height) move your arms straight outward (as a scarecrow)
- On the third inhalation, bring your arms straight up (pointing at the ceiling). Then as you are exhaling, make an arc with your arms as you bring them down to your sides.
Perform 10 to 12 repetitions of this cycle.
Video: More tips on proper breathing exercises for strengthening the lungs
Essential Oils That Can Aid In Better Breathing
Here are some essential oils that can be viable remedy for improved breathing (especially if you have respiratory issues such as asthma) including a DIY recipe.
- Lavender – This is said to be the most popular of the essential oils and one of the most highly studied. It is known for its relaxing, sedating attributes, and reduces problems with breathing such as, keeping airway passages clear of inflammation. Great for asthma sufferers. get it here and read reviews
- Peppermint – Peppermint is notorious for its ability to serve as a decongestant and a natural antihistamine. It suppresses the formation of the histamines that shut down airways. Especially effective during allergy season.
- Tea Tree – Tea tree oil works as an expectorant, helping the body break up mucous and phlegm in the airway thus improving breathing. read reviews and get it here
- Eucalyptus – This is an oil with a strong, instantly recognizable aroma. As another expectorant, this oil has compounds have been found to help break up phlegm and mucous that can clog the airways, improving breathing in the process. Also, as an antimicrobial, when aerosolized, it’s release in a closed room can eliminate 70% of staphylococci present. Furthermore, this oil is used in countries that do not have other resources at their disposal for disinfecting the air.
4 to 6 drops in a diffuser is recommended with any of the above oils. see here
- Frankincense Essential Oil
One important benefit of frankincense essential oil is its anti-inflammatory nature, which may aid in soothing mucous membranes. It contains monoterpenes, which have an immunomodulatory action which stimulates the immune system and could benefit people with breathing conditions, in particular, asthma. Delivery methods include: adding a few drops to your diffuser, or applying it to your chest as a rub to ease congestion. get it here and read reviews
- Oregano Essential Oil
Oregano essential oil has been used to treat an assortment of respiratory disorders. It may help eliminate bacteria that causes respiratory infections and diminish bronchial inflammation. Due to these properties, oregano essential oil is considered to be a natural decongestant. Suggestions for use: place 3 drops in a diffuser filled with water. Let the diffuser run for up to 30 minutes. Essential oils for breathing should never be ingested, and only used for inhalation or topical application. get it and read reviews here
- Frankincense Essential Oil
- Cedarwood Essential Oil
Deemed as a natural decongestant, cedarwood essential oil may help loosen up mucus and improve breathing. Reported to have a cooling and soothing effect, cedarwood essential oil has been used historically for colds and chest congestion. In a 2003 study, cedarwood essential oil was also found to have a sedative and relaxing effect on the autonomic nervous system when inhaled by participants. These characteristics may be useful for those experiencing difficulty breathing at night. Usage: (as mentioned above) 4 to 6 drops recommended in a diffuser. get it here and read reviews
DIY Recipe for respiratory support in children and adults:
Notice: The author from this source makes it very clear that not all essential oils are safe to use around children. You can read more here and also purchase the ingredients below
- 25 drops rosalina essential oil
- 15 drops Siberian fir (fir needle) essential oil
- 20 drops cedarwood (atlas) essential oil
- ⅓ ounce amber bottle
- essential oil diffuser
- Blend all essential oils together in the ⅓ ounce amber bottle. (I re-purpose old essential oil bottles for this.)
- Cap tightly and swirl to stir.
- Use 3-6 drops in a diffuser (depending on your individual diffuser’s instructions).
I if had one thing to pick from in this article that you the reader may yield the biggest takeaway from, it would be to consider trying some of the breathing exercises that I have outlined above. As I mentioned at the top, breathing is something most of us (including myself) sort of take for granted as our autonomic nervous system acts as a kind of auto pilot mechanism for the function of breathing.
The presented information could or should be especially virtuous to those who are suffering from conditions such as asthma, emphysema, COPD or possibly sleep apnea (which I did not cover in this piece). So if you have one of these conditions, I’ll repeat what I always mention in all my posts, which is to talk to your doctor/physician or primary health provider about the information presented here. Although, unlike my other posts, I can’t imagine any side effects from the particular breathing exercises mentioned.
I hope you as a reader have learned as much as I did researching and writing for this article. Also, please feel free to share your thoughts on this work and leave a comment below. I would be most grateful.
Best of health to you