Well intentioned advice, no doubt.
But unfortunately, most of us are pretty clueless about how to breathe properly to get maximum benefit out of something we do unconsciously, all day, every day.
The truth is, proper breathing is a skill … one that’s inborn yet often lies dormant because we either a.) have never learned how to do it the right way, or b.) don’t practice it.
What Happens When You Don’t Breathe Properly
- Shallow breathing, which is our default mode when we’re stressed, restricts the diaphragm’s range of motion. The lowest part of your lungs—which is where many small blood vessels instrumental in carrying oxygen to cells reside—never gets its full share of oxygenated air.
- The breath plays a vital role in maintaining a balanced body. Shallow breathing causes your nervous system to become unbalanced, resulting in much higher stress levels.
- Your airways get constricted, which makes it harder for the air to travel from your mouth to your lungs. The result: your body has to work harder and breathe faster.
- Your blood vessels constrict, which can lead to increased blood pressure and force your heart to work harder.
Every process and organ in your body depends on oxygen. For example:
- Your brain uses about 20% of the oxygen you take in. When it faces an oxygen shortage, the brain will slow down, which negatively impacts other systems in your body.
- Since your heart beats around 100,000 times in a single day, it is dependent on getting enough oxygen to pump blood to all parts of your body that need it. Poor circulation leads to a whole bunch of other issues too.
- Oxygen powers your muscles, and a shortage makes them get stiff, tense, and tired faster, which impacts your ability to move each day.
3 Simple Steps to Breathe Better
Many holistic healthcare practitioners make it seem like you need to sit down and meditate for 30-60 minutes every day to gain any benefit from deep breathing.
While I do think anyone could benefit from this approach, it’s just not realistic for most people. That’s why I prefer a simpler system to improving your breathing that can be done pretty much anywhere, anytime.
Find a quiet, comfortable spot. If you don’t have access to one, then put on some noise-cancelling headphones with some relaxing music (or one of the apps we recommend below).
Sit or stand upright, and breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose. Feel the air expand downward and fill your entire belly. Breathe out through your mouth.
Engage your diaphragm. Put one hand on your abdomen, just below your belly button. Feel your hand rise about an inch each time you inhale and fall about an inch each time you exhale. Your chest will rise slightly, too, in unison with your abdomen. Remember to relax your belly so that each inhalation expands it fully.
Diaphragmatic breathing activates your parasympathetic system via the vagus nerve, improving your heart rate variability and restoring balance in your body.
Long story short: when you teach yourself how to breathe better and practice deep breathing for just a few minutes each day, you will reduce your stress and anxiety levels and increase blood and oxygen circulation throughout your body.
Videos, Books, and Apps to Help Improve Your Breathing:
- Video: Vagus Nerve: Breathing for Relaxation
- Video: Breathe to Heal
- Video: How to Breathe
- Book: The Warrior’s Meditation: The Best-Kept Secret in Self-Improvement, Cognitive Enhancement, and Stress Relief, Taught by a Master of Four Samurai Arts
- Book: The Wim Hof Method: Activate Your Full Human Potential
- App: Calm (guided meditation app available on iOS or Android)
- App: Headspace (guided meditation app available on iOS or Android)