Are you breathing correctly?
By Amber Malik| Nutritionist and Holistic Chef
Are you breathing correctly?
With the plethora of health advice out there, it’s essential to prioritise according to what you find most important and can incorporate into your life. Tips on breathing better seem to be easily disregarded. After all, breathing comes naturally to all of us and we literally do it every moment, so what more do we need to know, right? But hold up a second. In modern times, our breathing has changed and can contribute to certain ailments; and, purely because breathing is such a natural, simple thing, it’s ridiculously easy to improve elements of our wellbeing with it.
So why is proper breathing important? Our lungs fill up with oxygen and our red blood cells then carry that oxygen all around the body. These breaths help maintain the vital balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide – a balance which, when out of whack, can impact heart rate and blood pressure. This affects your stress response (and your cortisol hormone), which can lead to excessive inflammation in your body, and inflammation is said to be the cause of many common health problems. It also makes your muscles tire more quickly, hence why we really notice our breathing habits when we exercise. Our lungs are a highly underestimated method of toxin elimination by the human body. Breathing better helps the nervous, muscular, digestive, cardiovascular and immune systems.
Nowadays, we lead chronically stressful lives. We’re over-stimulated and always on the go so our bodies revert to the kind of breathing done when we’re in ‘fight or flight’ mode. Problems arise when this is the normal way we breathe rather than an occasional thing. This type of breathing takes place predominantly in the upper chest, and the correct, more natural way to breathe is via the diaphragm; known as abdominal breathing.
Signs of improper breathing
- Your chest rises more than your stomach. When breathing correctly, your stomach should rise when you breathe in, and deflate when you breathe out.
- Not being able to easily take a deep breath through your nose alone for more than 7 seconds.
- Needing to yawn, sigh or open your mouth in order to take a complete, full breath when breathing in deeply through your nose.
- Keeping your mouth open a lot of the time because it’s more comfortable to breathe that way.
- Sometimes a tight neck and shoulders, as well as sleep issues like teeth grinding and regular waking during the night, can point to irregular breathing.
Breathing correctly is important for your physical and mental wellbeing. If we don’t, oxygen and vital nutrients aren’t as optimally carried in the blood to the brain, at best making us feel tired and at worst making us feel utter rubbish. With abdominal breathing, our diaphragm muscles are working to stabilise our trunk, so if this isn’t the case we can suffer from poor posture and back issues. Also, science shows diseases can’t run rife in an oxygenated environment. In this age of chronic sickness, surely that’s enough of an incentive to pay attention to our breath.
What can we do to improve our breathing?
- Observe babies. They’re born doing it right. Their bellies fill up when they breathe in and come down when they breathe out. It truly is our natural way. Any time you remember or notice your breath, make a conscious effort to do it this way. The more times you remember to do it like this, the quicker it’ll become a daily habit and ultimately your natural way too.
- When you go to bed, pay quick attention to how you breathe in your most relaxed state, moments before you begin to drift off. A relatively healthy person will automatically revert to the natural way of abdominal breathing through the nose. It’ll give you a good indication of how easily your body can adapt to a new breathing technique.
- Do guided meditations that focus specifically on the breath, even if just for a few minutes each day. This will also help reduce stress. Win-win!
- If you are a mouth breather and find it difficult to go straight to nose breathing, work on making your mouth hole smaller each day.
- Plank. This awesome exercise is fantastic for strengthening the core and thus making abdominal breathing much easier.
- Avoid processed foods. They’re acidic so your body is forced to breathe more heavily in an attempt to get the blood back to a normal pH, causing CO2 and O2 imbalances over time.
- Take up yoga, just like you’ve been telling yourself you would for ages! (Read this post by Vitamin Buddy founder Armin about his year of yoga challenge.) Many yoga practices focus on at least one specialised breathing technique. From Ujjayi to Buteyko to alternate nostril methods, there are numerous ways yoga classes teach effective abdominal breathing. These practices are easy to do at home once you’ve learned them. Here’s a basic outline of just a couple:
breathe in through your nose deeply for 4 seconds, hold for 8 and then breathe out for 6 seconds, bringing your belly down towards your spine so you’ve exhaled completely. Repeat for as long as you wish.
inhale deeply through one nostril whilst closing off the other nostril using your thumb, hold and switch your thumb to the other nostril, then exhale through the now open nostril. Alternate and repeat.
The best thing about breathing better is you can literally begin this second without even needing to get up from where you’re sitting! Why wait?