Breathing is a natural thing: breathe in, breathe out…not much to it, right?
Well, guess what: there actually is a wrong and right way to get oxygen into your system through your lungs.
Breathing is a powerful tool used to decrease stress, increase energy, and feel more balanced in our mind and body. However, most of us don't think much about how we breathe.
Stop - Take a deep breath with one hand on your chest and the other just below your rib cage. Which hand raises more as you inhale and lowers when you exhale?
Breathing is the only bodily function that we do both voluntarily and involuntarily. When we consciously breathe, we influence the involuntary part of the nervous system that regulates blood pressure, heart rate, circulation, and digestion. In this way, we can use breathing to improve our overall health - both physical and mental.
If your chest rises more under our hand, you may be breathing less efficiently which could affect both your health and mental state.
During belly breathing, you consciously engage your diaphragm to take deeper breaths. You will notice your abdomen rising and falling. You will also feel an expanding or stretching sensation in your abdomen, rather than solely in your chest.
Many people are in the habit of breathing only with their chest. Restrictive clothing, poor posture, stress, holding your stomach in to look good in your jeans and weak breathing muscles contribute to this.
The truth is chest breathing is inefficient. The greatest amount of blood flow occurs in the lower lobes of the lungs and the air just doesn't get there when you breathe this way. These breaths are generally rapid and shallow resulting in less oxygen transfer to the blood and poor delivery of nutrients to the body’s tissues.
Also known as abdominal breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, belly breathing is deeper and causes your stomach to expand as you inhale.
The benefits of belly breathing include:
· Improved blood return to the heart for ideal blood pressure and cardiovascular health
· Improved stamina for energy and athletic performance
· Improved flow of lymph resulting in a better immune function
· Improved relaxation response for less tension and overall sense of well being
Often times our general state of stress and slumped postures keep our chest muscles and tissues of our rib cage tight not allowing us to completely expand our rib cage which results in inefficient breathing.
For others of us (especially women), we have spent so many years holding our stomach in tight that we don't allow our breath to fill our bellies and expand. Or our tight jeans just don't allow it. In this case, chest breathing has become a habit. Watch a small child breathe and learn from them. They naturally have good posture and breathe through their belly because they haven’t learned to hold their belly in yet.
The good news is like any muscle, the diaphragm can be strengthened. With regular practice (and maybe looser jeans) you will breathe more often from your abdomen improving your overall health and mental state.
Wishing you health and wellness!