Respiration is an often under-observed bodily function primarily because it is largely involuntary. However, the power that breathing holds over our health is astounding, therefore it is worthy of exploring. In most ancient cultures, the breath was understood as the source of our fundamental life force (qi in Taoism, pneuma in classical Greek medicine, prana in Hinduism). In fact the word spirit comes from the Latin word for “breath.”
When under stress, our breathing patterns generally become shallower and greater in quantity. This is to provide our body with extra oxygen to be transformed into usable energy for muscle exertion and cognitive functions, allowing you to adequately engage with whichever stressful situation you are currently in. It is a very useful and effective mechanism for your survival, heightened work performance, and growth as an organism.
However, problems arise when stress becomes chronic; breathing can become habitually impaired. The effects of such breathing can cause fatigue, slowed mental function, digestive complications, depleted immune response, and over time a physical depletion of the brain itself [1, 2, 3]. The reason is that when the body is in a stressed state, it disrupts most growth processes and enters a state of preservation. It puts much on hold to supply vital bodily resources to deal with the immediate stressful circumstances.
When circumstances do not call for a stressed sympathetic nervous system, normal breathing should occur. Such breathing is characterized mostly by long, slow inhalation and exhalation. Also, the inhaled air should be focused in the gut, causing it to balloon outward. The chest should not need to be engaged.