You feel fatigued frequently for no explanation. Your muscles are continuously knotted up and achy. You have trouble concentrating. Have you checked your breathing technique? Do you know that incorrect breathing have been associated with many conditions from chronic headaches to cancer?
Take a little time to monitor and fix your breathing pattern. Test yourself. Stand in front of a mirror and take a deep breath in. Do your shoulders move slightly up? Does your chest expand out immediately as you breathe in? How about your abdomen (stomach)? If you answered the exact opposite (no, no and yes), you are either lying or I need to congratulate you on your great breathing technique. If you answered the opposite to any of the questions above, you need to work on your breathing.
During inhalation your abdomen should expand first. Your chest should only expand after your abdomen has expanded. Why? The lungs are passive structures. They do not expand nor contract on their own. They expand when the diaphragm contracts and creates a negative pressure (a vacuum) that brings air into the lung cavities. When the diaphragm contracts, it pushes against your abdominal viscera (intestines). As you bring air to the lowest lobes of your lungs to fill them out completely, your abdominal cavity expands forward and out to the sides to accommodate your internal organs which are being push down and out. Have you noticed how babies breathe? Their little abdomen bulges out and to the sides when they breathe in and deflates when they breathe out. We are born breathing correctly.
Unfortunately, most people in our Western society become chest breathers as they try to conform to our beauty standards. Letting our abdomen protrude is not seen as acceptable. Also, when you have gained enough weight around your waist, letting your abdomen bulge out during inhalation becomes difficult as your clothes constrict this movement.
Being a chest breather is taxing on your scalene muscles and SCM which attach to your cervical (neck) vertebrae and back of the head respectively. When they become tight, your neck mobility diminishes and your movements become distorted. Muscle spasm, headaches, trigger points and other conditions can occur. Also, lack of oxygen does not allow organs to function at their best since oxygen is essential for the production of energy in the body. There are many more consequences of incorrect breathing, but I won’t go into them now.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR BREATHING
In the long run, you need to become aware of how you breathe at all times. Overtime, your body will get used to efficient breathing and will let you know when you are not breathing correctly. In the short run, work on the following exercises. They might be frustrating at first since they require to stick your stomach out when you breathe in and suck it in when you exhale. To some of you, it will feel extremely weird at first since you might do the opposite. I have to admit, I had to correct my breathing for a while before it became second nature.
Lay on your back with your knees bent. Place one of your hands or a heavy book on your abdomen and the other hand on your chest. Contract your diaphragm by sticking your stomach out as you inhale (breathe in). Don’t allow your chest to rise until your abdomen cannot protrude any further. Your hands should monitor this movement. Do not try to look down to your chest and abdomen as that will stress your anterior neck muscles. Repeat for a few minutes.
If the last exercise seems too difficult to master. Try this one. Get on all fours. Relax your shoulders. Take a deep breath in and allow your stomach to go towards the floor (gravity will help you do this). Exhale and suck your stomach in. Repeat. Make sure that your shoulders do not hike towards your ears when you breathe in. The only part of your body that should be moving is your abdomen towards the floor and towards your spine.
After you’ve got a pretty good idea of how breathing correctly should feel. Try standing up in front of the mirror and perform the test at the beginning of this post. If you are engaging your diaphragm correctly by now, try walking while breathing correctly. You might feel funny bulging your abdomen out in front of others. Remember that hardly anyone pays attention to what others are doing on the street anyway.
Remember we live stressful lives. Breathing is soothing. Your new and improved breathing will give you more stamina. It will also strengthen your diaphragm which is one of the main four muscles that make up your inner core muscles. It will help with venous return to your heart. It will make your internal environment more basic which discourages inflammation and tumor formation. There are lots of benefits to reap when you put effort into improving your breathing technique. Breathe right.