We breathe automatically from birth to death, but rarely stop to consider if we are actually doing it correctly. With upwards of 17,000 breaths per day, correct technique is essential for optimum health.
When you inhale deeply, your diaphragm contracts and squashes the contents of your abdomen. This causes your belly to naturally bulge, known as abdominal breathing. On breathing out, your rib cage compresses your lungs and forces air out, and your belly flattens. This rhythmical cycle of contraction and relaxation is essential for breathing and staying well. So how do you know if you’re doing it correctly?
Stop where you are. Sit or stand with your spine straight and your eyes looking forward. Take a deep breath in, and breathe out. Next, hunch the middle of your back and let your shoulders and head slump forward. Now take a deep breath in. Notice the difference? When you slump,
your breathing will become shallow, making it impossible to fill your lungs with oxygen and release carbon dioxide properly. When your spine is straight, your rib cage expands and your lungs have adequate space to work fully.
The wrong breathing pattern also creates issues in other parts of the body. A hunched posture and shallow breathing can trigger reliance on the secondary muscles of respiration. These are the muscles around your shoulders and neck that can help you breathe, even though they are not designed for this task. This can lead to muscle tightness, pain, postural and joint dysfunction; as well as affect your overall health.
Correct abdominal breathing can help lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate, relax muscles, decrease stress, and increase energy levels. Fortunately, we can easily control and improve our breathing.
To breathe well, maintain a tall spine. Focus on deep, slow, balanced and controlled breathing through the nose. It should feel easy, and your breath should be silent. Allow ample movement of your chest and note how your abdomen moves in and out. As you do, you’ll trigger the relaxation response, reduce anxiety, and help heal and energise your mind and body.