Concerned about heart health? Consider the effect breathing has on the heart.
What does breathing have to do with heart health?
A lot, actually! Did you know that when you inhale a quality breath, the movement of the diaphragm pulls downward on the fascia that connects the diaphragm to the pericardium (the fluid-filled sac that surrounds the heart) and helps the heart to fill with blood? When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes upward, pushing the bottom of the heart, and helps it to contract and push blood out. From that functional perspective consider what happens when we are not engaging the diaphragm muscle to breathe, and instead, take shallow chest breaths? Without the help of the pump-like action of the diaphragm below, the heart works harder to pump the same amount of blood throughout the body. This translates to increased stress on the heart, and when it becomes chronic – translates to compromised heart health.
What is the quality of your breath?
Just as you pay attention to the quality of the food you eat and the water you drink, are you aware of the quality of the breaths you are taking? A quality breath is imperative for long-term health and wellbeing, especially when it comes to heart health.
A quality breath is an effective breath. One that functionally draws air into and expels it from the lungs; and one that effectively delivers oxygen to our cells and allows for the release of carbon dioxide for energy production. A quality breath is an effortless breath. It is relaxed, calm, and quiet.
To achieve an effortless, quality breath, we must breathe through the nose and with the diaphragm. To learn more about this, check out my earlier post “Breath is Life…How Do You Breathe?” https://www.stonebodyworks.com/breath-is-life-how-do-you-breathe/
A chronic poor- quality breath shows a stressed heart.
Poor quality breaths do not fully utilize the diaphragm muscle to draw breath in. This lack of use lends itself to a flaccid, weak diaphragm that becomes inefficient in performing its main role as our breathing muscle. Just as your leg’s muscles would quickly weaken if you stopped walking for a week, requiring more effort for you to move around – the flaccid, non-moving diaphragm muscle becomes weakened, so it is not able to pull on the fascia of the heart to assist in its blood pumping role. This makes it more effortful to pump blood to the rest of the body, increasing strain on the heart muscle.
Heart issues such as palpitations, racing heart, anxiety, high blood pressure, high resting heart rate, etc. indicate to me that there is some work to be done with breathing to improve heart health for the long-term fix. This means improving the quality of all your breaths!
The one thing that you have conscious control of is your breath!
The autonomic nervous system controls all “automatic” body functions, such as breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, mouth-watering (salivating), and the movement of food through the intestine. The one thing that you have conscious control of in this list of automatic functions, is your breath. So, although you may not be able to consciously slow your heart rate and your blood pressure- you CAN control your breath. And because your breath is linked to every system of your body, as your breathing slows and becomes calm, the heart rate and blood pressure will surely follow. All in good time! Patience and consistent practice is key!
Do we really need someone to teach us how to breath??
I believe so! Breathing is not supposed to be a stressful act, yet it has become that way for most humans due to our stressful lifestyles. The chronic stressors of life have ramped us up in such a way that we are moving through our days breathing like there is a lion chasing us! The challenge is that we do not realize how our stress shifts our breathing patterns. Without this awareness, the small changes add up until our overall breath rate increases, and our poor quality, stressful breathing patterns become habitual; this increases our heart rate and blood pressure, slows our digestion, and messes up our sleep – further increasing stress, anxiety, and tension. These days, we tend to chalk these symptoms up as “part of getting old”, but maybe we could all benefit from a conscious breathing tune-up!
Interested in learning more? Check out this 10 min. guided breathing meditation that I made just for you! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uijnb1jmaH8&t=29s