How to Breathe
We must learn to breathe properly. We take this basic function for granted and underestimate the effects it has on our physical and mental health, emotions, thinking, and performance.
And it's so simple!
To breathe properly, we must breathe from our belly, not our chest.
An easy trick to learn this is to sit up straight (or stand) and place one hand lightly on your chest and one hand on your belly. Take a couple of deep breaths and see which hand is moving more; the one on your belly should be the one moving. If the hand on your chest is moving, you are shallow breathing, even when taking "big" breaths. This kind of breathing is common and normal, but contributes to a range of mental and physical problems. And it misses the benefits of breathing properly.
How to breathe properly:
When you breathe in, try to stick out your belly.
It helps to engage the muscle underneath your lungs called the diaphragm, which presses downward and makes space for your lungs to fill with air. (Contracting the diaphragm expands the volume in your chest (thoracic) cavity, and thus shrinks the volume in the abdominal cavity, which makes your belly stick out. This kind of belly breathing is called diaphragmatic breathing. )
Notice how you can draw air into your lungs by pressing down the diaphragm.
Try to inhale through your nose.
Notice that releasing the diaphragm and pulling in the abdominal muscles, you can exhale the air from your lungs.
Try to exhale through your mouth.
You can take control of the pace at which you inhale, hold a breath, and exhale.
Try counting to 3 as you draw in a deep belly breath. 1, 2, 3... then let it out.
Now take a long deep breath in, hold it for a second, then count to 5 as you slowly exhale.
Repeat this cycle and find a comfortable pace of inhaling and exhaling. Try to relax as you experiment with this breathing technique.
Make sure you feel like you're getting plenty of oxygen and not "holding your breath".
You should feel a bounty of oxygen; try to imagine the oxygenated blood invigorating every capillary in your body and brain.
The diaphragm, like all muscles, can be trained and strengthened. Take it easy at first and gradually strengthen this muscle by practicing this technique.
Belly breathing will become increasingly natural, second nature, and automatic. You will find yourself taking fuller, deeper, more thoughtful breaths, and ideally, gain a sense of wellness with each breath.
All of us are helped by reminders to breathe this way: with long, deep, belly breaths.
You may develop a routine or habit of practicing deep breathing, perhaps just after you awake in the morning, or in the evening before sleep.
You may set reminders in your calendar; or wear something on your wrist that - when you see it - reminds you to breath well.
There are various apps that can help you learn to breathe properly and that provide a breathing pacer (e.g., "Breathe", "Long Deep Breathing", and "Hear and Now").
Diaphragmatic breathing is a central aspect of ancient traditions such as meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and martial arts. Intentionally paying close attention to one's breathing is a way to train the mind to concentrate, stay focused, deal with distractions, and let go of intrusive thoughts and troubling feelings.
This kind of breathing has a direct effect on the nervous system. Diaphragmatic breathing can be used to positively affect and balance your body and mind. One method, called biofeedback, can be used to optimize your functioning; to enhance high-level cognitive and physical performance among athletes, professionals in intense, highly demanding roles, public speakers, and performers in many arenas.
Paying attention while breathing is a central component of most forms of meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and martial arts. Developing your ability of focusing on breathing is as important as the breathing itself.
Making sound (aka chanting) when exhaling can add benefits to deep breathing. A common method is to use the traditional word OM, starting with your mouth open for the O, then narrowing your lips to a whistle, then closed as you articulate the M until you drawn in your next deep breath. The vibrations associated with these sounds add further benefits.
Further, you can expand the benefits of deep breathing by adding healthy, positive intentions to the exercise. When you inhale, imagine how the fresh air is activating your immune system sending waves of healing throughout your entire body (organs, brain, and tissues). When you exhale, imagine releasing toxins and negativity, leaving a healthy balanced system in their wake. You might want to focus on "cleansing" specific parts of your body that could benefit from this kind of positive attention. The intention to heal and help, as with prayer, is as important as the act itself.