There is something you do approximately 18 times per minute, 1,080 times an hour and 25,920 times a day – and you don't even think about it: breathing.
If you do think about your breath, it's probably only when you're running out of it! And that feeling of shortness of breath – whether it's panting after running for a bus, or gasping for air during an asthma attack – can induce panic. Breath is, of course, fundamental to being alive. So why do so few of us know how to breathe properly? One big reason is because we sit so much causing our pelvis to get out of alignment. This, in turn, forces our breathing to come from our chest – similar to smoking. Have you heard the expression “Sitting is the new smoking disease”?
Paying attention to your breathing can be the best preventative treatment for numerous health issues – notably asthma and high blood pressure, but even aches and pains picked up from bad upper body posture – as well as leading to a better awareness of your sense of self. It can also greatly reduce stress levels.
We tend to take small sips of a breath and hold it when we're anxious, both of which can have a ripple effect through the system. One bad habit, like shallow breathing, triggers another. Breathing incorrectly can make you more susceptible to lower back pain and poor posture. When clients start personal training with me, breathing is one of the first things we address because of the impact it can have on movement and the muscles.
Breathing properly helps to keep the mind open, enabling you to think about who you are and what and why you're doing something. But primarily, if you breathe in the right way, you'll have better digestion, your balance will be improved, and you'll develop an optimum posture.
The exercises below are to help you identify your own breathing patterns and consciousness of your breath. After doing them, you should slowly start to learn be more aware of how you breathe and start feeling the positive effects. To breathe the right way, your stomach must inflate rather than your chest. You will notice the difference within a week and feel much better for a long time afterwards.
Learning how to breathe from the abdomen (diaphragm) is very important: firstly because the blood in the lowest part of the lungs is the richest for oxygen. Secondly, if you put all the stress for your body support and breathing on your upper chest and shoulders, this will tighten up your neck and shoulder muscles and eventually your arms. This often leads to problems such as headaches, rotator cuff issues, a stiff neck, elbow and wrist tendonitis due to the lack of flexibility in those areas due to poor breathing habits.
HOW TO BREATHE PROPERLY
* Learn to 'focus on your belly button moving out and in’
This is to help you visualize your breath coming from the deeper part of the lungs and helps you to stop shallow breathing. Use this image whenever doing breathing exercises.
* Relax your breathing mechanisms
Stand with your back against a wall and heels touching the wall and hip-width apart. Relax your shoulders. Soften your joints – ankles, knees, hips. Put both hands over your belly button. Close your eyes and focus on moving your belly button out like Santa when you inhale and in like the Pillsbury Dough Boy when you exhale. We tend to "breathe backwards" (hunching our shoulders and sucking our stomachs in when we take a deep breath)
* Practice wide breathing
Feel yourself expand as you breathe. Place your hands just above your hips on your bottom ribs – you should feel these expand in and out as you breathe. There is a belt of muscles under the diaphragm and that's what's sending the breath out. To expand your breath capacity this is what you should concentrate on: it will help give you a longer stream of breath.
* Try singing breathing
Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet close to your butt. Place both hands, one on top of the other, over your stomach (using the belly button as the central point). Breathe in and feel your stomach expand; breathe out and push the stomach gently back in with it. Singers often sing laying on their back to learn to sing from their diaphragm.