Monday, December 29, 2014

35. Lungs

Take a deep breath.

Did your belly puff out? I don't mean puff out a little bit. I mean, did your belly puff out like a pregnant lady or like you just ate an entire chipotle burrito in one sitting? If your belly did not puff out like either of those things, then I have sad news for you. You did not take a deep breath. But don't worry! I can teach you how to take a deep breath.

If your belly did puff out, then you already know how, and I have a challenge for you: I want you take one giant breath and see if you can hold it while reading the entire rest of this post without passing out. If you succeed, please leave a comment to let me know! If you pass out, please leave me a comment to let me know that you at least landed on something soft like a pillow, or a fat cat.

Your lungs are a lot larger than you might imagine. If you're a grownup, each one of your lungs is approximately the size of a football! If you're a child, your lungs are more like the size of Nerf footballs. A lot of times when people take a deep breath, their shoulders raise up. This is an indication that you're only filling the top half of your lungs. When you take a true deep breath, your shoulders should stay perfectly stationary. Here's how to train yourself to take a real deep breath:

1. Put your palms on your belly.

2. Imagine you have a deflated balloon in your belly. You can even give the balloon some colors and patterns, if it's easier to imagine that way. Maybe it's green with pink spots! Or maybe it's purple, with a dancing yellow elephant on it! If you're a grownup who doesn't like imagination, then just imagine that your balloon is decorated with your latest W2 form.

3. Breath in slowly through your nose, for 3 slow counts and imagine the balloon inflating. Your belly should puff out!

4. Hold it for 3 slow counts.

5. Breath out slowly through your mouth for 3 counts.

6. Do this 3 times! No more no less!

If you take more than 3 real deep breaths in a row, you get overloaded with pure oxygen, and get a bit light headed. In other words, this much direct oxygen makes you just a liiiiittle bit high. Don't operate heavy machinery while doing your breathing exercises.

I learned how to take real deep breaths when I was in high school, and I have found it to be terrifically helpful when I'm feeling nervous, or stressed out, or just need to refocus myself. Beyond the lovely oxygen and ensuring that the lower half of my lungs won't collapse when I'm old from disuse, it also has another wonderful side effect: it literally sends a neural signal to my brain that everything is okay, that I'm not in danger, and that my brain stem doesn't have to take over and turn off my frontal lobe (or decision-making processes).

Even though I learned how to take real deep breaths many years ago, I never was able to realize its full potential until I had hiked for several months. I don't think that I know enough about our biology to know if our lung capacity actually increases, but I do know that being a long distance hiker made it nearly impossible for me to get winded anymore. Sure, steep climbs would get me breathing very heavily, but after 2 months or so, I no longer had to stop to catch my breath. I would stop at the top of mountains, breathing like a freight train, but I wasn't dizzy or light headed anymore from lack of oxygen. All the little alveoli were working at 100% capacity, and my body was just taking the deep breaths when it needed to, without me having to focus to make it happen.

Like so many other benefits of long distance hiking, this one happened outside of my conscious awareness. I think most of us would get winded just from having to sprint to catch a bus in the morning, just due to the nature of regular life. We don't have the time to be able to spend 8 or more hours a day just letting our body be active and truly breathe.

It's so tempting to just keep blathering on, because I know someone out there is trying desperately to hold their breath.



Clever Girl

I tried to do my own breath-holding challenge, and failed miserably. Luckily my cat is very fat, and he didn't mind me face-planting into his belly.

1 comment:

  1. I made it, but just barely and I had to switch to high speed skimming rather than actual reading for the last couple of paragraphs. After a couple of very quick breaths to catch up I went back and reread them...