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The remarkable breathing

Dr. med. Peter B. Barth
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Life a breath at a time

From the moment we first cry when we are born to the often quoted very “last breath”: Breathing is something we do throughout our whole lives.
Breathing is a highly complex basic function of our bodies. It’s not only completely autonomous, but is also the only basic function that we can influence and control voluntarily, i.e. quite consciously, at times.

Relevance and function

"This fact alone makes breathing remarkable and unique. The physiology and mechanics of breathing are not only vital; they are as fascinating as they are complex," says Dr Peter B. Barth. The experienced Mayr doctor at Park Igls Medical Spa Resort knows that a good breathing technique is rewarding and beneficial to health.

Not all of us are experienced Mayr doctors, actresses, opera singers, lung specialists, yogis, voice or meditation trainers - in other words, someone who deals with breathing for professional reasons, for example. As a result, many of us are often unaware of the importance and effectiveness of correct breathing techniques. At least not enough.

Take a deep breath and just calm down! There are many moments when we truly notice our breath: When someone gasps from excitement, when one feels completely out of breath after climbing the stairs or after an intense exercise session, when a breath catches in our throat from shock, or when something is simply breathtakingly beautiful… Even our use of language reveals that our breathing is of paramount importance in any situation. In fact, every physical and mental state affects our breathing. Joy, anger, excitement, sexual arousal, calmness or nervousness influence our respiratory centre and increase or inhibit breathing.

Did you know that...

... adults inhale and exhale between 10,000 and 20,000 litres of air every single day.

We breathe 24 hours a day. Without breathing, there is no life. And without functioning lungs, there is no breathing. As the organ responsible for respiration, our lungs ensure that adults inhale and exhale between 10,000 and 20,000 litres of air every single day. In fact, we breathe in and out 12 to 17 times per minute on average. According to Dr Barth, “The lung is a precise, high-performance machine. Without it, we are literally finished, so it goes without saying that we must avoid doing harm to our lungs… smoking, for example.”

What you should also know: Proper breathing techniques can be learned. Mostly due to stress, we often do not breathe properly. This means that we breathe too shallowly and not enough into the abdomen. “Abdominal breathing is essential to a proper breathing function. It allows for deeper breathing,” explains Barth.

Controlling our breathing

Our breathing is basically controlled automatically. However, we are able to influence this by, for example, slowing down, stopping or speeding up our breathing. The automatic control happens in our breathing centre, in the brain stem. In very simplified terms, this is where we decide whether we breathe fast or slowly. Sounds simple, but in reality it is highly complex. The most important basis for decision-making is the current level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our blood stream. If the level of carbon dioxide is high, the breathing rate is increased in order to exhale carbon dioxide. Conversely, we breathe shallowly when the CO2 level in our blood is low.

“Deliberate, conscious breathing holds great potential for spiritual, mental and physical health”

Dr Peter B. Barth MD, General practitioner, Mayr doctor

Breathe the stress away

It can be done, and it can be practiced. The following is a simple belly breathing exercise: First, place your hands on your stomach. Then inhale deeply through your nose and feel in the palms of your hands how the belly inflates and the abdominal wall lifts significantly. As you slowly exhale through your mouth, you will feel your abdomen and diaphragm move back up. Perhaps you can manage to consciously breathe like this three or four times a week? The diligent do this every day, ideally for 10 to 15 minutes.

Why is the correct breathing technique, i.e. abdominal breathing, so important in Mayr Medicine? Barth: “That is quite simply explained: Abdominal breathing stimulates peristalsis, the autonomously controlled movement of the intestines. The diaphragm works like a suction-pressure pump. When we breathe deeply into the abdomen, the diaphragm sinks downwards and our lungs also open downwards. Below the diaphragm are the solar plexus (note: a network of fibres and nodes of the autonomic nervous system), spleen, liver and our digestive system.

These areas are massaged and supplied with energy during inhalation. This is important and works to counteract constipation. Any improvement in the abdomen inevitably leads to an improvement in the quality of breath, and vice versa. Deep abdominal breathing also leads to relaxation and the release of tension. This is done by stimulating the vagus nerve, which is the main parasympathetic connection between the brain in your gut and the brain in your head (CNS). This is one of the quintessential learnings of more than a century of experience with Mayr Medicine.”

Inhale, exhale

The organ responsible for our breathing is the lungs. The lungs ensure the exchange of gases, which is vital for us because our blood, or rather our body’s organs, muscles and every cell, is supplied with oxygen via the alveoli when we breathe in. When we exhale, carbon dioxide in the blood is removed. Mechanical support is provided by the respiratory muscles, which include the diaphragm and intercostal muscles, and the “helpers” of the auxiliary respiratory muscles. These are abdominal muscles and muscles of the neck and chest.

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About the author

Dr. med. Peter Barth

Dr Barth is a general practitioner with additional training in diagnostics and therapy according to Dr F. X. Mayr and emergency medicine. He has several years of experience as a Mayr doctor.