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"You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step."
- Martin Luther King Jr.

Benefits of Abdominal Breathing

chinese character for breathing I often talk about doing abdominal breathing during some Qigong practices, including exercise and meditation. It requires one to focus their mind on their breathing. We can characterize the desired breathing as: slow, long, thin, even and soft. So why is abdominal breathing so important? Here's a list of reasons why it is so important.

1. Increased oxygen intake during inhalation. Thus enhancing oxygen circulation to cells around the body. This facilitates energy production, healing due to disease and injury, repairing due to normal wear and tear on the body. By expanding the abdomen during inhalation, this allows the lungs to fill up with air more completely. Regular breathing in this manner prevents so called "dead spaces" to occur in the lungs where little to no oxygen and CO2 is exchanged due either inadequate ventilation, which may lead to the collapse of the alveoli. Abdominal breathing can prevent these collapses, thus prevent dead spaces, by enhancing the production of surfactant. Surfactant is a compound produced in the active alveoli sacks that prevents sack walls from sticking together. Adequate breathing plays such an important role in your health.

2. Increased carbon dioxide (CO2) release through exhalation. In physiology, there are complex mechanisms that occur in the body to balance the pH or acidity and alkalinity. Respiration or breathing is one of these mechanisms. When we exhale through the lungs, we expel among other things, CO2, which is acidic. Thus, exhaling is a major way in which we release acid from the blood and body. People that are shallow breathers tend to be more acidic and there can be long term consequences (respiratory acidosis). The body then has to try to compensate in other ways to get rid of the acidic build up. Of course the opposite is also true, if you breathe to quickly, like hyperventilating, then you can get rid of too much CO2 and the body can become too alkaline. That is why we were told to breathe into a paper bag if we hyperventilate. We are then inhaling the CO2 captured by the back that we got rid of too quickly. The lesson here is that slow abdominal breathing helps to bring balance to many aspects of our lives, including pH.

3. Absorb more energy (Qi) while breathing. There are several ways to build Qi in the body. One is by absorbing the energy during breathing. Abdominal breathing allows us to take in more Qi than normal or more shallow breathing. This Qi can be refined and stored in the Lower Dantian until it is needed in the body.

4. Reduced heart rate and blood pressure. Abdominal breathing reduces the heart rate and blood pressure, both of which reduces the demands on the heart. If your face color is flushed or red and you feel hot when others around you are not, this could be a sign of high blood pressure.

5. Calms and relaxes the body. When your mind is focused on abdominal breathing, it relaxes and let's go of other thoughts, thus reducing the effects of stress. This allows the nervous system to enter a state of parasympathetic dominance, which allows the body to repair and heal. It also allows for better digestion, circulation and immune function.

6. Massages the internal organs. The mechanical motion of abdominal breathing actually massage the organs. This helps to increase the circulation of Qi in the organs. Thus, improving the energy flow in the organs allows the body to work more efficiently and effectively. If the energy is stagnant in your organs when you begin the abdominal breathing practice, you may notice improvements in your health with every day of practice. Consistent daily practice will yield the best results.

If you are stressed, it is likely that you are breathing shallowly and therefore, you are not getting adequate amounts of oxygen and Qi. Your body may become acidic. You may have an increased heart rate and even high blood pressure. The good news is that all of these can be avoided or reversed with proper training in abdominal breathing.


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