Are you breathing correctly?

How do you breathe? Are you breathing correctly? Seems like a silly question...I mean we breath all the time so how can we possibly be breathing wrong if we are still alive. But in reality, most people do not breathe correctly. When they breathe, the breath only goes down to their chest so they are shallow breathing. The breath does not even make its way down to their diaphragm which is the chief breathing muscle.

If we look at the human body, the diaphragm is the main muscle used in breathing and is located under the lungs. It separates the chest (thoracic cavity) from the abdomen. When we inhale, the diaphragm contracts and moves downwards. The lungs expand, forcing our abdomen to expand, followed by our chest expansion. When we exhale, the diaphragm muscles relax and move upwards which helps to move the air out of your lungs. If we shallow breathe, the breath only reaches our chest and our diaphragm isn't even involved in its specific function.

Babies naturally breath correctly, taking the breath right down to the diaphragm expanding their abdomen. But as babies grow into kids, teenagers and then adults, they often lose it and get into the habit of shallow breathing. This can be due to not being aware of how they are breathing and if it is the correct way, poor posture (e.g. shoulders curved forward), anxiety, stress, tight clothing restricting the breath, and other conditions.

Breathing correctly has profound effects on other parts of your life. For example, when you are feeling stressed or anxious, focusing on your breath can help to calm and relax you. This helps to move your body from the 'flight or fight' mode (using the sympathetic nervous system) to a more calming relaxed feeling (using the parasympathetic nervous system). If we are not breathing properly, the cells in our body are not receiving enough oxygen. This can cause us to feel tired, lethargic, have brain fog, and your cells won’t get the nutrition they need. This can cause numerous health issues down the track.

People also do not breathe correctly as they are concerned with looking thin and holding their belly in. If you watch the people around you breathe, can you see their chest or belly moving in and out? Most likely you can see their chest moving which means they are shallow breathing. In some people, their shoulders move up and down when they breathe but the shoulders are not involved nor have any function in breathing.

How do you know if you are shallow breathing or breathing with your diaphragm? The easiest way to test this is to either sit upright or lie on the ground. Put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Take a breath in and see if your chest or belly rises first. If your chest rises first followed by your belly, then you are only shallow breathing. If your belly rises first followed by your chest, then you are breathing correctly and using your diaphragm. Ideally, when you breathe in, the breath should reach your abdomen, so you belly expands for the first 2/3rds of the breath followed by the last 1/3rd of the breath going into your chest, so your chest expands. When you breathe out, your chest should go down first followed by your belly.

Breathing correctly can also translate over to your training. How do you breathe when lifting heavy weights? Are you holding your breath? Are you taking the breath down to your abdomen and releasing it at the end of the movement? e.g. when doing a heavy squat you take a deep breath in, move down in the squat and on the way up, breathe out to help you move up in the squat to stand upright. How do you breathe when you are doing cardio? It is a good idea to pay attention to how you currently breathe when you train and lift as getting the breath right will help tremendously.

Deep belly breathing for 10-20mins a day can make a huge positive impact on your life. To do this, find a nice quiet place, preferably outdoors on the grass under a tree so you can ground yourself at the same time. Nose breathing helps to keep your body in the parasympathetic state (calm and relaxed). Close your mouth and take a deep breath in through your nose. Slow the breath down. Hold it at the end of the inhalation and then slowly exhale the breath out through your nose. By focusing only on your breath, it will help clear your head, especially if you are stressed or have things on your mind. When you reach the end of the 20mins, you should feel calm and energised. Doing this for 20mins a day for 3 months will help form a habit to make this a part of your everyday life. Doing it first thing in the morning or before bed is a great way to either start the day or unwind at the end of the day. Or doing it during your lunch break at work can help revitalise you for the afternoon. Set yourself a challenge and start off with 30 days and see how you feel.

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