Breathing, are you doing it right?
Take a deep breath right now, inhale and exhale.
Where do you feel the oxygen?
Did you belly expand on the inhale and deflate on exhale? Or did only your chest expand?
Chest breathing otherwise known as “shallow” breathing, is a habit many of us have gotten into and struggle to change.
It makes your body inefficient in exercise and affect endurance. It can also create a high level of stress hormones to build up in our systems, if we breath inconsistently and shallowly on a regular basis, which is in part responsible for inflammation that cause disease.
The Solution is Free and Right Under Your Nose
(Thanks NPR for that goofy pun!)
If you are just getting back into exercise or are an inefficient breather, retraining yourself to breath appropriately is going to improve your exercise efforts and stress levels, dramatically.
Try this, It’ll Change Your Life!
Don’t believe me? Try this exercise below. It’ll take 10 seconds and maybe change your life. I am not joking!
Place your hand on your belly and take take a deep breath again, slowly. Pull the air deep and relax your stomach muscles. Exhale at the same rate that you inhaled. This is known at balanced breathing. It’s a 1 to 1 ratio.
Did you notice how good it felt to get a deep breathe into your lower abdomen and fill your lungs? Your body is thanking you. It’s allowing more oxygen to be processed into your bloodstream, all your muscles are soaking up the oxygen, and you exhale is detoxifying your body.
You can literally feel the life-altering effect getting more oxygen into your body has on your organs and bodily systems. After all, you are breathing life into yourself.
When we are stressed out or busy, we tend to forget to breathe and hold our breath. If you let out long sighs on a regular basis you are holding your breath. Pay attention to your breathing for the next week. See when and what situations cause you to hang onto your breath.
Start with the exercise I shared above by pulling air deep into your lungs and putting a hand on your belly. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth whenever you notice you are stressed, tense or holding your breath. Ideally, start with a 4 beat inhale, 1 beat hold, and 4 beat exhale. If that’s too long, start where you are comfortable and work up to a 6 beat inhale, 3 beat hold, 6 beat exhale.
As you progress with retraining yourself to breathe appropriately you can use breathe exercises to calm yourself down or increase your energy for a workout.
Breathing for Stress Relief
If you are in a stressful situation and you start to notice a physiological reaction, start breathing at a 1 to 2 ratio, inhale to exhale. Meaning if you breathe in 5 beats, exhale for 10.
If you have ever heard of the 4-7-8 breathing technique, this is a down breathing technique that employs the 1 to 2 ratio. Practice inhaling for 4 beats, hold your breath for 7 beats, and exhale for 8 beats. This is a great practice for calming the body and even inducing sleep.
Breathing is managing energy in the body.
Inhaling raises our heart rate and increases energy within the body and exhaling lowers the heart rate and expels energy from the body. In yoga, one limb of the practice is solely dedicated to breathing. It’s called pranayama.
That’s how valuable breathing is to the yogic process and how important it needs to be in our daily lives.
Activities and Practices for Better Breathing
Personal Story of Breath
As an competitive athlete most of my life I thought I knew how to breathe. Competitive situations are often stressful situations. I had scholarships on the line, a starting spot on the line, a winning game on the line, teammates and coaching expectations to manage. I was diagnosed with asthma one night when my parents rushed me to the ER when I woke up unable to get a breathe in, it was a terrible feeling. I was 14.
I was given an inhaler but I never wanted to use it. I only used it when I literally felt like I couldn’t go another second without breathing. I was afraid to become dependent on the inhaler and have it no longer “save” me. It wasn’t until 10 years later when I joined Swim Masters when I was living in Hawaii to train for an ocean race that I truly learned how to breathe. My coach, a transplant with a harsh New York accent would yell at me every time I would take a breath, I could hold my breathe for 10 to 12 strokes. It drove him crazy because he knew I wasn’t being efficient, he knew I was taxing my body. My stress response would kick in and I would spend an hour after practice trying to get my breathe under control.
For me my asthma is not exercise induced nor chronic, for the latter I am thankful because that’s a serious thing to deal with and modern medicine is a powerful thing for managing chronic asthma! Mine is stress induced. And my practice of yoga, swimming, and focus on my breath for the last 5 years has changed my life. Since those swim practices 5 years ago, I’ve probably used my inhaler 3-4 times.
I share this personal story simply to illustrate however important breathing is for overcoming health issues, stress, and managing the energy in your body.
Please let me know how the retraining process goes and how your body responds. Just remember, the better you breathe, the better your workouts will be and the more efficient your body will be in your efforts to get more fit, more healthy, and more happy!