Learn How You Could Be Breathing Better
Breathe in, breathe out, repeat. We breathe without even thinking about it. It’s a natural instinct. It’s a physiological process that we don’t have to learn. We start breathing as soon as we’re born. A fetus in utero doesn’t actually breathe on its own. The mother breathes for the baby as oxygen is passed through the umbilical cord. The baby however does make breathing-like movements. These begin at approximately 9 weeks of pregnancy, allowing the fetus to learn and practice the breathing pattern.
The process of breathing has multiple purposes. To start, it sustains life by providing oxygen to our entire body and by removing waste such as carbon dioxide. Areas of our respiratory system work to filter out germs and debris protecting the inside of our bodies. Breathing also affects our motor control and postural stability. It plays several roles in physiological and psychological regulation which influence our nervous system, circulatory system, chemical regulation and metabolism.
Breathing is so natural, yet most of us do it incorrectly. That’s right, the thing that we all do about 20,000 times per day, is likely being done poorly. Bad breathing habits can literally make us sick. When we don’t breathe properly, our body does not receive the oxygen that it needs, leaving us vulnerable to stress and sickness.
Take a moment to check in on your regular breathing, the kind of breathing that feels natural to you. Do you breathe through your mouth only? Are your breaths rapid? Are they shallow? Those are three common yet less-than-ideal ways to breathe.
Our nose plays a key role in healthy breathing. It filters germs and particles from the air. It also warms and moistens the air making it more comfortable for our lungs. So when you can, breathe through your nose. Consider nose breathing a protective form of breathing for your lungs and body.
Our diaphragm is also an important component of proper breathing. Yet, most of us don’t take advantage of it. When our inhale is shallow and our exhale is rapid, the air stays in our upper chest. Our diaphragm doesn’t have to do much. However, it is a strong and powerful muscle sitting below our lungs, ready to work. If we were to let our lungs fill up with air, our diaphragm would tighten and flatten, our lungs would expand along with our rib cage. As we exhale, our diaphragm and rib cage muscles relax, pushing air out of our lungs. This is called diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing. This form of respiration is in fact the way we are supposed to breathe. Plus, it has so many health benefits.
Controlled belly breathing has been shown to reduce stress, increase alertness and support our body’s defence mechanisms. Studies prove that deep breathing practices reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder.
Deep and controlled breathing has been an integral part of yoga and meditation. These practices focus on connecting our brain to our breathing which translates to deeper, slower and more effective breathing techniques. Our brain gets the message that all is well and our body feels a sense of calm.
Belly breathing won’t happen overnight. It requires focus, discipline and concentration. Whether you need to calm your nervous system or wake up from that afternoon slump, one of these breathing exercises is for you! They will also help your respiratory system, your body and your brain learn how to breathe deeper, more efficiently and therefore in a healthier way.
The goal of coherent breathing is to breathe at a rate of five breaths per minute, which means a count of six per movement. Sitting or lying on your back with your hands on your belly, start inhaling slowly filling your lungs with air. Count to five. Pause at six. Slowly exhale to the count of six and repeat. Work your way up to practicing coherent breathing for 10-20 minutes per day.
Stress Relief Breathing
When your mind is running at a million miles per minute and you need a break, try this form of breathing. Stress relief breathing or rock and roll breathing incorporates slow body rocking to connect your body to your breath. Sit up straight on the floor or at the edge of a chair with your hands on your belly. As you inhale, lean forward and expand your belly. As you exhale, squeeze the air out and curl forward while leaning backward. This is like doing a mini abdominal crunch. Repeat 20 times.
When you need that pick me up mid-afternoon, turn to energizing breathing instead of another cup of coffee. Stand tall with your elbows bent and palms facing up. As you inhale, bring your elbows back, squeezing your shoulder blades, palms remain up. As you exhale, send your arms forward and straight, and turn your palms to the floor, while saying “haaaaa”. Repeat 15 times quickly.
Another way to improve your breathing is by improving your posture. As we sit at our desks with rounded shoulders and a heavy hanging head, we compress our rib cage and therefore our breathing capacity. The tightness in our chest and stiffness in our neck, upper back and low back prevent our ribs and diaphragm from opening up. Shallow breathing is what we continue to do day in and day out. Our team at CURAVITA Glebe and CURAVITA Byward are here to help! Talk to your team of MSK experts about strategies to improve your posture and spine mobility which will in turn help you breathe better!
For more information about our CURAVITA Glebe clinic or Byward clinic visit us online.