the *proper* way to breathe (and consequently de-stress, feel better, brighter...)

Do this little exercise with me for a sec: put your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your belly. Now take a big breath in. You’re right hand probably moved first. In fact, your left hand might not have moved at all. You’re probably a chest breather. We both are. "We tend to take sips of a breath," says Jane Boston, co-editor of the book Breath inAction, "and hold it when we're anxious, both of which can have a ripple effect through the system.” The ripple she’s talking about can include anything from back pain to high blood pressure to poor digestion. General sprightliness can also be affected. It pays, then, to know how to breathe properly.

via jeff dibble pinterest

Take the way small children breathe. If you’ve ever watched closely (if you have a toddler, grab one and observe now) you would have noticed that kids breathe with their whole abdomen, their bellies inflating and deflating like a party balloon. That’s the work of the diaphragm, or rather a belt of muscles under the diaphragm. As children, we’re abdnominal breathers and automatically use those muscles to breathe fully and deeply. But as we grow older and spend more time stressing, working in front of a computer and generally acquiring terrible posture, the muscles grow weak and tense and we lose the knack of breathing properly.

I’ve definitely lost the knack. I’m a serial shallow chest breather. Whenever I’m pulled over for a breathalyser test I have to blow into the little plastic tube at least three times before the officer gets a reading. Throughout the day, I catch myself holding my breath and having to draw in a big one to make up for it. Little sips of breath. Then one big gulp.

Here’s the physics behind why we need to learn to breathe better: Chest breathing, as opposed to belly breathing, activates only the top half of your lungs. It prevents you from taking in enough oxygen because without the diaphragm contracting and opening up the bottom half of your lungs there is physically less space for air. Further, the lower part of the lungs is more efficient at delivering oxygen - the blood in the lowest part of the lungs is the richest in oxygen. So it’s important we get air down there.

Well then, how to do it properly. I’ve found these simple exercises from Breath in Action really effective and have been doing them all week (I find doing them in odd places like in the car and in queues best). And yes, I’m finding myself breathing deeply more and more often:

Conjure a visual for your breath in your stomach – it could be a well, fire, a ball of light. Whatever works. When you take a breath in, draw from this 'well'. This will help you visualise your breath coming from a deeper part of your lungs and help you overcome shallow chest breathing. Now place your hands on your bottom ribs, just above your hips.  Concentrate on this section as you breathe in and out. This is the section you should feel expanding and contracting. Lastly – and this is my favourite bit – breathe out for as long as you can. When you’re ready to breathe back in, open your mouth and allow your breath to be recalled back in naturally. You’re body with magically take in as much air as you released and you’ll feel it enter all the little crevices of the deepest parts of your lungs. And you’ll relax. And feel sprightly.

Are you a shallow breather? Try these exercises and let me know if they make a difference to you. Or maybe you have other tricks up your sleeve?


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