Do you ever catch yourself holding your breath? If I am deep in thought, stressed, trying to figure something out, or juggling a bazillion things — I often realize I am holding my breath. Even when I am not completely holding my breath, I notice that my breathing can be shallow and short. Many of us don’t think twice about our breathing because it’s automatic — we are apparently doing it just fine if we are alive. However, just because breathing is involuntary and we are meeting oxygen demands doesn’t mean that we are breathing properly. Almost all of us underestimate the power of this essential function, and poor breathing habits can have a negative effect on our health.
The Benefits of Deep Breathing
You might be thinking, “I breathe all of the time so what’s the big deal?” Unfortunately, most of us are not taught how to breathe. In fact, we tend to lose the ability to breathe properly over time. If you observe a newborn baby or an animal you will notice that when they inhale their stomach rises and then falls on the exhale. This diaphragmatic breathing, or deep breathing, utilizes the entire capacity of the lungs. As we go through life and experience stressors, our breathing becomes shallow and we only use the top portion of our lungs. So why is it important to breathe deeply?
Deep Breathing Practices
So how do you breathe? Sounds funny to ask but it is vital to know. One of the key elements in deep breathing is utilizing both the upper and lower lobes of the lungs. To practice for the first time, it can be helpful to lie on your back. Place your hands on your belly. Take a long slow inhale through your nose and your hands should rise. After you fill the lower portion of your lungs (keep breathing in) then allow your chest to rise. On the exhale, do the opposite. Allow your chest to fall first followed by the abdomen. Continue in a slow rhythmic cycle. You will notice that you can breathe in so much more oxygen using this style of breathing.
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, a basic rule for breathing practice is to try to make your breaths deeper, slower, and more regular. To deepen your breathing, practice exhaling beyond your normal breathing sequence. Exhaling completely builds muscles between your ribs, and your exhalations will naturally become deeper and longer over time.1 In addition, by squeezing more air out you will automatically breathe more in. Weil recommends the following “4-7-8 breathing” technique as a way to improve your breathing rhythms:
We have many opportunities in the day to practice deep breathing (remember using upper and lower lungs and exhaling completely are key). Some ways to incorporate deep breathing into your daily life:
Breathe deep my friends!