Inhale. Exhale. We take so many breaths a day and it is so natural that most often we aren’t even aware of it. As you know, breathing is important to oxygenate our bodies and cells resulting in energy for our activities. The real question is: are you breathing correctly?
Breathing helps us be more efficient not only in our physical work but in our mental work as well. Many relaxation techniques focus solely on the breath and how it can calm the mind and body simultaneously. In the yoga classes that I teach I always begin with breathing techniques to help the students prepare their mind and body for the class. The purpose of this is to relax the body to be prepared for fluidity of movements in yoga.
It is impossible to maintain the same breath throughout all of your activities. When you perform cardio, you naturally breathe heavier. When you lift, you breathe more forcefully. For anyone that takes any traditional type of yoga, you are linking your breath with your movement for more efficiency.
Proper breathing does not consist of the simple inhale and exhale. For starters, proper breathing should be done with the rise and fall of the abdomen area and not the chest. As you sit and read this, take note of your breathing. Do you notice your chest rise and fall? If so, by the end of this article you will learn some techniques to help you work towards more efficient breathing.
First, an understanding of what is happening internally as you breathe might be helpful. When you inhale, your thoracic cage expands making room for the lungs to inflate. The diaphragm then flattens out and descends like a piston. Ideally, your inhale should take about 4 seconds. Anyone that is skilled in breathing techniques may hold what is called suspension (similar to holding the breath for a but this is not recommended as you start your journey toward proper breathing.
Carbon dioxide is then released from the body in the exhalation. You should be taking twice as much time (8 seconds) – it seems like a lot but I recommend starting off with a 2 second inhale with 4 second exhale and working your way from there. It is important to always remember that you must breathe from the diaphragm and not with the chest. Habitual chest breathing impacts posture and overstimulates the sympathetic nervous system which will increase heart rate, blood pressure, and could lead to problems with digestion.
Proper breathing is not only essential in your daily living but throughout your workouts. You may find that it is actually easier to breathe correctly when you are exerting yourself. We use our breath in the martial arts to exert our energy in our movement and to relax our mind through any pain when taking a hit. The real test is when you are watching television or at work. Whenever I have a student that is new to this I always have them lie down with a hand on the lower abdomen.
With the body completely relaxed, take 3 deep breaths. Exhale as if you are blowing out candles on a cake or trying to fog up a mirror. Next, slowly inhale with your hand on your lower abdomen and if you are breathing correctly you will feel your abdomen rise. On the exhale your abdomen will sink.
You may notice as you begin this practice that you are doing it in the reverse and it may seem really challenging to change that pattern. Keep working at it and eventually you will do it without even thinking. Don’t get discouraged because this is a huge challenge if you’ve been breathing a certain way for so long. Once you are on your way you may begin to notice subtle changes in your posture, energy, and attitude.
Coulter, H.D. (2001). Anatomy of Hatha Yoga. Honesdale:PA Hewitt, J. (1977). The Complete Yoga Book. New York.