To live well, you must feel well. To feel well, you must breathe well. It is very common today to see people breathing out of their mouths, breathing too fast, and taking shallow chest breaths.
We probably don’t have to tell you that slow, deep breaths are superior to rapid, shallow breaths, but what’s wrong with being a mouth breather? You miss out on all the benefits of nasal breathing. What’s so great about nasal breathing? Nasal breathing conditions the air and prepares it for our lungs. When air passes through our nasal passageways, it is filtered, moistened, and warmed. This allows us to absorb a much larger amount of oxygen per breath compared to mouth breathing. Which means it takes fewer breaths per minute to deliver an adequate amount of oxygen to our system.
When our system is getting plenty of oxygen, this sends calming signals to the brain, reducing stress and anxiety. In our younger years, we naturally took nice, deep belly breaths using the lower lobes of our lungs. As we get older, experience stress, anxiety, and become more self-conscious, our breathing reflects those feelings and emotions - it increases in rate and becomes more shallow.
Not only is rapid, shallow breathing a product of an overthinking mind, it also is a factor in recreating those feelings of stress and anxiety. In other words, it’s a two-way street. Breathing affects feeling and feeling affects breathing.
Here’s how you can practice better breathing:
(Always consult your doctor before beginning any breathing or exercise program. What may work for some, may not work for you.)
- Get comfortable either lying on your back or sitting. If sitting, be sure to keep your back straight, have both feet on the floor, and relax your shoulders.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other one on your stomach.
- Take a few normal breaths.
- Does your belly rise and fall with every breath in (inhalation) and every breath out (exhalation)?
- If you can answer "yes," that's good. This is the natural way of breathing.
- If your belly stays still but your chest rises and falls with every breath, practice breathing by only allowing your belly to rise and fall when you breathe in & out.
- Slow and controlled breaths—as you take a breath in through your nose, imagine a balloon being blown up in your stomach. When you exhale, breathe out through your mouth as if you are blowing out through a straw.
- Continue to take deep breaths, concentrating on only moving your belly for as long as you need to.
- Practice when you are already relaxed.
- First thing in the morning and before bed are the best times to practice.
- Slowly count to five in your head as you breathe in and out.
- More frequent and shorter sessions of deep breathing is more effective and easier to incorporate into your lifestyle.
Now that you are aware of what defines high quality breathing, you can consciously practice it, and retrain your body to breathe better even when you’re not thinking about it. This will help you better manage stress, anxiety and help you to feel more grounded and clear minded. That is priceless in today's fast paced world. Breathe well. Live well.