Tips To Improve Your Breathing
Our body breathes automatically so we rarely give it a second thought, but so many people develop dysfunctional breathing that it's good to check in with your breathing technique every now and then.
Shallow breathing patterns can happen as a result of many things including stress and anxiety, upper body tension, poor posture, holding our tummies in, respiratory illness or chronic/repeated issues with breathing conditions such as asthma. It can even happen due to pregnancy - when baby takes up some of the space where the lungs should be, sometimes after birth it can be hard to shift the habit of breathing in the upper chest.
Here are some tips to help improve your breathing, we would recommend to start exploring these exercises when lying down on the floor or in bed. Once you feel you have it sorted, give it a go when sitting and standing as well.
Check your posture
When our posture is poor, our lungs can't expand and fill properly. Whether you're sitting, standing or lying down, check that your spine is long (lift up from the crown of your head - the top/back as if your hair is in a ponytail and someone is drawing it straight up).
Ribs are in line with your hips, shoulders are relaxed down away from your ears (not rounded forwards and not drawn back to puff the chest out). Chin is positioned slightly in and down so that the back of your neck is lengthened.
For a more in-depth description of standing posture, see here.
What full breathing means
So many people take a massive, forced inhale in the front of the chest when told to breathe deeply. Full breathing shouldn't be forceful, it should be done with a sense of ease.
It can help to understand how we breathe. When you inhale, your lungs expand like a balloon, ribcage expands around it in all directions, a thin layer of muscle under the lungs called the diaphragm shifts down and your belly should gently expand as the pelvic floor muscles soften.
On the exhale, the reverse of this happens - belly drops, pelvic floor lifts, diaphragm shifts up and lungs deflate as the ribcage comes back to its original position.
This means that we want to think about sending our breath down our body, almost like an elevator.
- Make sure you're not sucking in your tummy or holding your breath.
- Always practice breathing both in and out using your nose.
- Try inhaling for a count of three and exhaling for a count of three to find some evenness to your breathing.
- Think about sending the breath all the way down to your lower belly/pelvic floor.
Practice three dimensional breathing
Now that we've practiced shifting your breathing down your body, we want to think about expansion outwards. We've already talked about the ribcage expansion - it's as if your breath starts at the centre of your body and moves outwards to the front of your chest, sides of your ribcage and also into your back, then retreats back to the centre on the exhale.
- Lying down - Place one hand on your chest, one hand on your belly. On your inhale, feel for both hands rising equally and also for the feedback of your back ribs pressing into the ground..
- Seated or standing - Place your hands around your lower ribcage, fingers pointing towards the front of your body and thumbs around the back. Send your inhale breath into your hands to feel them moving outwards and back in again.
Lengthen your breath
If any of these practices make you feel anxious or uncomfortable, don't force it. Stop doing it and try an easier practice instead. Just like an exercise programme to train muscles, breathing training may need to happen gradually.
The more you practice, the more natural it will become until your body remembers how to do it on its own automatically.
Now that you've practiced a 3-count inhale/exhale, explore the counting further. Extend to a 4-count up to as much as 7.
Try some more Pranayama (yoga breathing techniques) here to help improve your breathing.
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