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The Importance of Clean Air and Breathing Right: A Step-by-Step Guide

Dr. B is a naturopathic doctor in Ontario, Canada. He is the author of "Rules of Health," a comprehensive guide on healthy living.

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What's the big deal about clean air and breathing right anyways? Read below to learn simple ways to improve your life by paying attention to something we just take for granted.

When one thinks about breathing, an immediate association to life comes to mind as in the "Breath of Life." For those who have no difficulty in breathing, it happens seamlessly and effortlessly, but ask someone with lung disease and you will know how precious of a function breathing is. As you may remember from science class, one of the main functions of breathing is to allow for the absorption of oxygen and release of carbon dioxide. Our bodies maintain a very delicate balance of these two molecules in the blood, and without oxygen and carbon dioxide, we would literally die within a matter of minutes. Below are some simple steps anyone can take to improve the quality of air one breathes with safe and effective approaches.

  1. Breathe slowly, breathe deeply. Our cells need oxygen to produce energy. If you feel like sometimes you lack energy even though you slept great and are well rested, it could be your breathing. Most people are chest breathers. You may ask, how else are we supposed to breathe? The answer will be explained shortly in step 9. If you are a chest breather you will notice two things. One is that your chest will rise and fall with every inhalation and exhalation and secondly your breathing rate will be more frequent. This form of breathing will only fill your lungs partially with air and not utilize the full capacity of your lungs for oxygen absorption.
  2. Breathing should always be natural and never forced. If you have to use force to breathe then it’s a medical issue, let your doctor know. This rule only applies when you don’t have a cold or the flu during which time your nasal passages can get congested and you may be forced to breathe through your mouth.
  3. The air in our homes can get a lot dirtier than outside air because of how airtight modern homes can be. If you have a forced-air heating and cooling system make sure to use a HEPA filter in it and change the filter every change of season. In my experience, this step alone can greatly improve the quality of air in the home. Furthermore, In the spring and autumn months when the outside air hovers between 10 and 20°C the homes heating and cooling system doesn't work as much and hence the air in the house can get even more polluted. A simple solution would be to open the windows during these months. Opening windows on the opposite ends of the house is more effective at creating a cross circulation of fresh air. If you suffer from seasonal allergies don’t open the windows before 10 am or after 8 pm, that’s when the plants release most of their pollen. If you suffer from allergies throughout the year and your home is carpeted try your best to vacuum it regularly or at the least invest in an good air purifier with HEPA filtration for the room you sleep in.
  4. Most people spend on average up to two hours each day in their cars commuting. The air in our cars can also get toxic over time from the fumes released by the car interior and any gasses that may seep through. As a general rule, as soon as you get in the car put the windows down for at least a minute to bring in fresh air. Furthermore, make sure to replace the cabin air filter of your car regularly, at least once every two years, more often if you live in a dusty and/or polluted place.
  5. Clean air is a luxury few of us have, now more than ever. Try your best not to contribute to air pollution. Some of the best ways to do that are to stop smoking and drive greener cars. Also, keep your car well maintained. In the summer months don’t BBQ with charcoal so often, BBQ with gas instead. Lastly, do your best to not support companies and organizations that are not concerned with their environmental impact. Instead, support those who care about what we leave behind for our children. The best way to bring about change is with your pocket book. By purchasing products and services from green companies you are, in effect, supporting and encouraging innovations and change for the better.
  6. If you live with a smoker, try to avoid second-hand smoke which can be just as deadly to the people living in the house. Make sure they never smoke in the house. Even in the bathroom with the exhaust fan on, should not be acceptable. If you have small kids, then they will get exposed to third-hand smoke from the smoker's clothes. Make sure the smoker does not handle a child after smoking. Even better is for them to have a separate set of clothes for smoking.
  7. Laugh frequently. Laughter is an exercise for the lungs and increases oxygen intake greatly. One of the beneficial side effects of laughter is that it makes us happier. Some things you can do to stimulate laughter are to watch comedies frequently or go out with friends and laugh or join a laughter yoga club.
  8. Notice your breathing regularly. Are you breathing fast or shallow? If you are, notice your emotions and the environment you are in. Most times we are unaware that when we get stressed, angry or sad our breathing cycle gets affected. When you do feel under the influence of a strong emotion, slow down your breathing:
    • Count in your head, and inhale and exhale only through your nose; breathe in to a count of 4 and breathe out to a count of 7.
    • Do this 3 times. Now notice your emotions again.
    • Did you realize what triggered the original emotion in you?
  9. Breath like a baby. If you have ever noticed an infant breathing, their belly rises with every inhalation and falls on exhalation. This is the proper way to breathe. To breathe like this lie down and put one hand on your belly and the other one on your chest. Now imagine that you have a balloon in your belly that you are trying to fill with air. As you breathe in, your belly should rise and your chest should stay mostly stationary. This happens as the lungs fill maximally and push the digestive organs away from it giving a nice massage to them in the process. As you breathe out the belly will fall naturally due to gravity and tissue elasticity. Try to slow down your breath as much as you can without forcing yourself or becoming uncomfortable. This type of breathing is called belly breathing or more technically known as diaphragmatic breathing. Breathe like this at least 10 times every night before bed, you will sleep like a baby. Initially, as you practice this type of breathing placing the hands on the chest and belly helps to give you visual and tactile cues but once you feel yourself belly breathing naturally you don’t need the hand placement. With time you will notice that your new breathing style will have you more energized and relaxed at the same time.

Try to incorporate these suggestions as best you can. Most of them should only take a few minutes a day to accomplish and with time they will become second nature to you. Discover your connection to your breath and make clean air a priority and watch the magic happen.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2017 Behzad Azargoshasb