Breathing

Topic Overview

The average adult takes 12 to 20 breaths per minute and, in general, couldn’t survive for more than three minutes with a complete lack of oxygen. Next to your heart beating, which is designed to transport oxygenated blood, breathing is the most important thing your body does. Even with this extreme importance, how many people spend any time to think about, or better yet, improve the quality of their breathing? For most it is purely a subconscious process. Over time, because of stress and dysfunctional physical habits, breathing patterns also become dysfunctional and perpetuate stress and unhealthy physiology. 

Stop reading, take a minute or two, and pay attention to your breath. Notice the depth of each breath. Do you breath through your nostrils or your mouth? What part of your body does the breath originate in, your chest, or your stomach? What do your shoulders do with each breath, if anything? Where do you feel the breath traveling with each inhale? Do you feel as though each inhale fills your lungs completely? Does each exhale empty your lungs? Try counting how long each inhale takes, and also the exhale.

I would imagine that those couple of minutes spent observing your breath is more than you have focused on your breath in quite some time. Now that you have brought awareness to your breath, it’s time to determine whether your current breathing habits are optimal or detrimental for your overall health and well-being. 

Goals

  • Improve awareness of your breath
  • Restore diaphragmatic breathing patterns
  • Learn to control your breath to relax or increase energy

Diaphragmatic Breathing

The proper way to breath, most of the time, is what’s called diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing. To practice this, and to begin developing awareness of the different phases and components of breathing, it is usually easiest to lie on your back on the ground or your bed, where you can comfortably stretch out and have all of your focus on your breathing. Ideally, during most non-strenuous activities, your breathing should always happen through your nostrils. There are a variety of reasons for this, which will be explored further later on. While laying on your back, rest your right hand over your belly button and your left hand over your sternum. As you begin inhaling through your nostrils, you should notice that your belly begins expanding and rising towards the ceiling. If this is not the case, and you notice your breath starting in your chest or somewhere else, it is alright. With each successive inhale try to shift the feeling to your belly, causing your right hand to rise with the expansion of the breath into your belly, while your left hand stays relatively still. Continue doing this until you have regained awareness of proper diaphragmatic breathing, or for at least five minutes. 

Actions Steps

  • Spend a minimum of five minutes every day practicing diaphragmatic breathing
  • Download an app to help with pranayamic breathing
  • Any time you feel abnormally stressed, shift your awareness to your breath and take five, deep diaphragmatic breaths

Tools and Resources