Breathing is our body’s most important function and is usually done without us giving it much thought. So it might come as a surprise to find that many of us aren’t doing it right! Yes, there’s a right way to breathe… The good news is, learning to breathe properly is pretty simple and you’ll reap some amazing health benefits.
Correct breathing techniques are used by medical professionals, including psychologists, in the treatment of stress and anxiety – short, shallow breaths can cause hyperventilation, which can create feelings of dizziness and panic. Learning to breathe properly can give people a technique to help cope and reduce panic or anxiety attacks. Slowing and concentrating on breathing rather than racing thoughts can help create a feeling of calmness.
Diaphragmatic breathing is intended to help you use the diaphragm correctly while breathing. It strengthens the diaphragm, decreases the work of breathing by slowing your breathing rate, decreases oxygen demand and uses less effort and energy to breathe.
Correct breathing can help to detoxify the body. Osteopath Dr Lauren Woodman explains that 70 percent of the body’s toxins are released through breathing! The breath can also massage the intestines, assisting with digestion and relieves tension. As if that wasn’t enough, Woodman says that correct breathing also relieves pain, strengthens and tones your abdominal muscles and provides more oxygen to the tissues, which helps them strengthen and grow. What are we waiting for, let’s get breathing!
How to take a deep, healing, diaphragmatic breath:
Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down and start by observing your breath – take a normal breath then try taking a slow, deep breath. The air coming in through your nose should move downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural).
Alternate normal and deep breaths several times. Pay attention to how you feel when you inhale and exhale normally and when you breathe deeply. Shallow breathing often feels tense and constricted, while deep breathing produces relaxation. Now you can focus on practicing diaphragmatic breathing for several minutes:
- Put one hand on your abdomen, just below your belly button.
- Feel your hand rise about an inch each time you inhale and fall about an inch each time you exhale.
- Your chest will rise slightly, too, in concert with your abdomen.
- Remember to relax your belly so that each inhalation expands it fully.
- You may begin with a count of five slowly in and out, though you can progress to even slower breathes as you get more practiced – the exhale should be the same or longer than the inhale.
Once you’ve taken the steps above, you can move on to regular practice of breath focus. When you first start, 10 minutes of breath focus is a reasonable goal. Gradually add time until your sessions are about 15 to 20 minutes long. Those that regularly practice may find they automatically start to breathe better.
As well as regularly practicing diaphragmatic breathing, paying attention to your posture will help you breathe better. Dr Woodman says a sedentary lifestyle can mean large amounts of time slouched in a chair which results in compression of the diaphragm. She explains the main role of the diaphragm is to draw air into the lungs by contracting and shifting pressure– this allows you to take deep full breaths. When a muscle is shortened it cannot contract effectively, hence one cannot take full deep breaths and this results in most individuals taking shallow breaths.
So take a few minutes out of your day, sit up right, and take a deep breath. It could be the best thing you do for your body all day!