Breathing 101: Are You Breathing Efficiently?
We are born with this thing called breath. We come through a portal into human existence and there it is— part of us, in us, through us, sustaining us here in this experience. Until this experience ends and we embark on a new one, sweet breath is with us. But how often do you ever stop to think about your breath?
I rarely did, until about 7 years ago.
I spent my teens and 20s as a chest breather, never letting air flow freely down into my belly. Reflecting back, it was a combination of feeling like I had to “suck in” to achieve a certain beauty standard and living my life in a chronic state of self-judgement, stress, and alertness.
As humans, we are naturally meant to breathe into our bellies for a balanced, calm, functional, and happy existence. Yet 99% of my clients come to me as chest breathers, constricting the belly and inhibiting the diaphragm from moving freely.
I invite you to try it now. Take a deep inhale, and slow exhale.
On your inhale: Does your belly expand out, stay put, or draw in? Do your chest and shoulders rise up toward your ears or remain fairly still?
On your exhale: Does your belly move out, in, or not at all? Can you feel a natural and subtle contraction of your pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles?
In simple terms, you know you’re belly breathing correctly and fully when your lower abdomen, sides, and back expand outward on the inhale, and come together on the exhale. The chest moves only slightly. One way to imagine it is to think of it like a balloon— when you fill the balloon with air, it expands, and when you let the air out, it deflates.
So why might you want to work on your belly breathing?
Some benefits include:
It reduces stress, along with stress’ many negative side effects and symptoms.
It stabilizes energy levels.
It’s the most efficient way to breathe, delivering optimum amounts of oxygen and and nutrients to the body’s cells and removing them of waste.
It relaxes muscle spasms and eases muscular tension.
It slows the heart rate and helps to stabilize blood pressure.
It encourages your body to let go of excess fat.
It improves core muscle strength and stability.
It increases athletic performance, while decreasing chances of injury.
It strengthens the immune system.
It increases mental clarity and brain function.
Changing anything begins with awareness and intention. As you’re getting started, I recommend 5-10 minutes of focused belly breathing in the morning before getting out of bed and again in the evening before going to sleep.
How to: Lie on your back with a pillow supporting your head. Extend your legs with two stacked pillows or a bolster underneath your knees, or, bend your knees with the soles of your feet resting flat on the bed. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Imagine that your belly is a balloon. Inhale through your nostrils. As the air comes in, imagine it filling up the balloon in your belly, expanding it out in all directions. Intend it to fill up front, back, sides. Feel the hand on your belly rise on the inhale. Exhale slowly through your mouth. Imagine the balloon deflating as the air leaves your body. Feel the hand on your belly fall. The hand on your chest should remain fairly still throughout the entire exercise. Continue to inhale and exhale in this manner for 5-10 minutes. Repeat morning and evening.