Of all the millions of things you do on a daily basis, the last thing you probably ever considered you may be doing incorrectly is breathing. After all, breathing is literally the only thing we need to do right to survive. So how could there be any room for error?
The fact is, most people don’t practice proper breathing techniques because, quite frankly, it is challenging and requires a conscious effort. Much like anything else you do, proper technique comes from both understanding the benefits of retraining and practicing newly learned behavior until it becomes second nature.
Why We’re Breathing Wrong
Quick! Take a few natural breaths and pay attention to where the air is coming in and out of. More than likely, you’re breathing in and out of your nose. Furthermore, the air is probably going in and out of your chest, causing what professionals in the health field refer to as “shallow breathing.” You could spend your entire life breathing in that fashion and be fine, but were you to tweak just a few breathing habits, you would find a significant change in your energy level, your ability to focus, and your ability to relax and sleep. But before I teach you a few easy breathing techniques, first let’s take a crash course in Oxygen and Breathing 101:
How Oxygen Affects Your Body
We all know we need oxygen to live but some of us may not know exactly why we do. The path of oxygen once it is inhaled is pretty complex, which is why slowing down the speed of oxygen exchange and increasing the amount that goes into the lungs is fairly important.
When oxygen is inhaled it goes into alveoli sacs in the lungs, where the oxygen gets picked up by hemoglobin molecules in the bloodstream. The blood then carries that oxygen to various parts of the body, where the oxygen is dumped into the cells. Through an enzymatic process, the oxygen becomes oxidized in order to create energy (the source mammal-cells need to survive). Once the oxidizing process is done, what remains is carbon dioxide: a poisonous byproduct of oxidization. That carbon dioxide gets carried out of the body the exact same way the oxygen went in.
This complicated exchange system takes only seconds to occur but you can optimize the effectiveness of this exchange by training your body how to utilize air better. There are three different breathing practices you can use to increase bodily function.
Also referred to as Bellow’s Breath, this exercise if often used by athletes because it revitalizes the organs and increases energy levels.
You can do this sitting up but, for optimal results, lay on your back. Make sure your chin is tilted up so there is no blockage in the airways. You can do this breathing exercise as many times as you like but it is suggested you do three rounds per session at minimum.
1) For 30 seconds, breathe in through your nostrils and exhale out of the mouth as quickly as you can. Make sure to breathe into the belly so that you are getting as much oxygen into your body as possible. Your lungs and belly should feel like it is being filled to capacity. Then, exhale hard out of the mouth, trying to dispel as much of that carbon dioxide as possible. Remember you are trying to do this as quickly as you can. You probably will feel light- headed, especially the first few times you try this.
2) After thirty seconds, exhale through the mouth and hold the exhale for as long as you possibly can. Try not to put too much thought into holding it. Let it come naturally but do challenge yourself. Each time you do this, you should be able to last longer and longer.
3) When you finally have reached your max, inhale through the nostrils, taking in as much oxygen as possible. Your body should feel like a balloon, oxygen pushing itself against your entire diaphragm. Hold for ten seconds then release.
4) Immediately start the 30 seconds of quick breaths again. Repeat this process at least three times.
This breathing exercise is quite simple and is used for relaxation purposes. Many people find this helps during the onset of a panic attack or insomnia. You can do this in any position but you may feel more relaxed lying down
1) Exhale all of the carbon dioxide in your body with force through your mouth, making an audible whooshing sound.
2) Inhale through your nose, filling your entire diaphragm for a count of four.
3) Hold your breath for a count of seven
4) Exhale completely through your mouth again, making an audible sound, for a count of 8. This should be challenging as you are really pushing that CO2 out of your body.
5) Start from the top. Each time you perform this technique, you are silently inhaling through the nose and exhaling loudly through the mouth. You may do as many rounds as you’d like.
This technique is used in many yoga practices and seems easiest of the three but can be deceptively challenging.
1) Sit in a comfortable position with your chin tilted up for optimal oxygen flow. Take a few natural breaths in and out
2) As you exhale, count “one”
3) Inhale again, then exhale and count “two”
4) Keep doing this until you go up to “five,” then start again
5) Never count higher than five. However, you might find that you naturally lose track and count higher, subconsciously extending duration of the exhalation of airflow.
6) Do this for ten minutes
Despite what exercises you choose to do or not to do, you can always follow this basic ideology: When possible, be cognizant of your breath. Remember to try to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, as these avenues are optimal for oxygen intake and carbon dioxide outtake. Try to breathe all the way into your belly to increase the amount of oxygen flooding those alveoli sacs. Remember, the more oxygen you allow your cells to take in, the better they function and the better you will feel.