Breathe With Your Belly, Not Your Chest
If you are an average healthy adult, you breathe between 25,920 and 31,680 times a day. And you are not doing it optimally.
Which means you are missing at least twenty-five thousand chances to be healthier and happier—every single day.
Okay, I know that is a bit sensationalized, but the fact remains: proper breathing technique gets rid of more carbon dioxide and puts more oxygen into your blood cells, brain and muscles. The result is less stress, more relaxation, better mental and physical performance, and better overall health.
Am I Breathing Right?
Put one hand on your chest and the other hand on your belly. Inhale. If your chest expands more than your belly, you can improve. If your shoulders rise, you have work to do. If you neck, shoulders, jaw, face, or back are tight, you are not breathing with optimal oxygen intake.
If you cannot count to five on your inhalation, and five on the exhale, for five consecutive breaths, you are missing out. If you can but you rarely do, you have a greater potential to activate more often in your day.
Happy As A Baby
If you take a look at a newborn baby, you will notice that when they inhale, their belly and rib cage expand, and when they exhale the belly and ribs contract.
This is the best way to breathe. It uses a muscle called the diaphragm, which all good singers know intimately—since deep belly breathing is essential to tone and stamina.
Deep Breathing, Belly Breathing, Diaphragmatic Breathing
These are all terms for the same thing: when you inhale, your belly/diaphragm/rib cage expands, just like a balloon filling up. When you exhale, the belly/diaphragm/rib cage release, just like a balloon deflating. It may feel strange at first, but with a little practice it will start to feel natural.
The technique is fairly simple, but will likely require some practice if you are not used to it. You will need to strengthen your core muscles (you can do this by practicing deep, slow breathing). You may even find yourself lightheaded (hold your breath for a second after the inhale).
Apply It To Life
Once you have begun to experiment with deep breathing, try applying it to your favorite activities—whether they are physical like yoga, weight lifting, running or team sports, mental like reading, writing, surfing the net or even watching TV. Try it when you are in conversation, and try it when you feel emotional, both good and bad.
You should have at least a couple of chances, every day.
G J Tortora & N P Anagnostakos, Principles of Anatomy and Physiology, 6th edition, New York: Harper-Collins, 1990,ISBN 0-06-046669-3, p. 707
According to the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center, “Diaphragmatic breathing allows one to take normal breaths while maximizing the amount of oxygen that goes into the bloodstream. It is a way of interrupting the ‘Fight or Flight’ response and triggering the body’s normal relaxation response.”http://www.cmhc.utexas.edu/stressrecess/Level_Two/breathing.html