Going with the Flow

Short and shallow breathing restricts the flow of oxygen to our cells, but it’s a natural reflex. “Our animal instinct causes the fight-or-flight response to outside stimuli; we need that short, heightened breath to ramp up our systems to react in a fierce way,” says Ashley Turner, M.A., M.F.T.I., who has combined yoga, spirituality and psychology to develop a powerful therapy and coaching practice (ashleyturner.org). “People who are always tired and have low energy need this kind of activating breath.”

(Note: Involuntary shortness of breath can indicate issues ranging from heart and respiratory diseases to less obvious problems such as changes to the endocrine and hormonal systems, so advise clients to consult their physicians.)

The consequences of long-term shallow breathing and short breathing via the mouth can reverberate throughout the body to affect overall well-being. “Improper breathing can cause long-term buildup of carbon dioxide that can weaken bones and leech nutrients,” says Barnett. “It can have cardiovascular consequences as well, and cause heart dilation.” And the lack of oxygenation can rob the skin, hair and nails of their luster and strength.

Deep breathing through the nose, with inhalation beginning way down in the abdomen, promotes real health benefits. “When we breathe deeply,” says Turner, “we are feeding our blood with oxygen. We are shifting our brain chemistry. We can literally flush out anxiety. We are secreting serotonin, the feel-good hormone.” In short, it’s hard to panic when you’re breathing through your nose.

Learn how to exhale, the inhale will take care of itself.” – Carla Melucci Ardito

Breath is also thought to encourage happiness and well-being. Barnett says, “Look at kids leaping around fearlessly. They have their arms wide open and their legs spread, taking in lots of air.” She advises spa professionals to be aware of their own breath. “I can help clients by syncing my breath with theirs,” she says. “Then I can start breathing slowly and deeply, and they will, too.”

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