Breathing is one of the most fundamental processes that keep us alive. However, most of us take it for granted and don’t pay much attention to how we breathe. Breathing well is crucial for maintaining good health, ensuring the body receives enough oxygen and efficiently expels carbon dioxide. It is not only important for survival, but as discussed in my recent blog post, it has a significant impact on our physical and mental well-being, including chronic pain. Now, let’s dive deeper into how we can breathe better and use the whole diaphragm.
1. Breathe Deeply
Breathing deeply means using your diaphragm to pull air into your lungs (rather than limiting it to your chest). You can practice deep breathing by sitting or lying down and taking slow, deep breaths.
Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Inhale deeply through your nose (tip: try not making a sound with the throat), and feel as your belly, ribs, and chest rise. Exhale slowly through your mouth, pursing your lips as if blowing out a candle, and notice as your belly and ribs contract and draw in. Try to expel all the air in the lungs and even the tiniest air molecules, then breath out a little more. Repeat this process for ten to fifteen breaths.
Top tip: This a great way to warm up your core and build that mind-to-muscle connection using your hands as feedback.
2. Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing
Tie a band or strap (or even a dressing gown belt!) around your ribcage, you can practice this seated or lying down.
Firstly, breathe in and out through the nose and keep the breath slow. Then, try only to breathe in and out of the front ribs, feeling the inhale press against the strap, and exhale the ribs naturally release away from the strap. Repeat for five to ten breaths.
Then, focus on both sides of the ribcage (you can even place your hands here for extra feedback), imagine the inhale pressing into the strap (on the sides of the ribs) and exhale release. Again repeat for five to ten breaths.
Next, bring your awareness to the back of the ribcage, breathing into this area as you expand into the band and slowly release. Repeat for five to ten breaths.
Finally, bring your awareness to 360 degrees, the whole ribcage expanding on the inhale and gently releasing on the exhale. Repeat for five to ten breaths.
3. Use A Range Of Breathing Techniques
Different breathing techniques can be used for different purposes. For example, the physiological sigh - two sharp inhales through the nose (second inhale slightly shorter) and a slow, sigh out through the mouth, repeating three times with a 30-second break between each. This technique is used to reduce stress and anxiety. Check out the short video for this.
4. Practice Yoga or Tai Chi
Yoga and Tai Chi are practices that focus on breathing and movement. Practising yoga or Tai Chi can help improve your breathing by encouraging deep, slow breathing while doing movements.
This month, in our yoga classes, our theme has been to ‘Breathe Well’, we have been working on a range of techniques that increase lung capacity and use the whole diaphragm. We have also been using it as an anchor throughout a sequence or holding a posture, whether that be for meditation or grounding during difficult asana postures.
5. Move In & Out Of Your Posture/Sitting Position
‘Good posture’ is a term physios are looking to avoid, although standing tall with shoulders back and down can help you breathe better (as it allows your lungs to expand fully) it may not always be the answer. Instead, I urge you to focus on moving in and out of your daily posture, if you’re sitting at your desk, it’s vital to take movements and stretches in and out of that position. Check in on your neck, is your head constantly forward? Try to work the full motion, strengthening your full range of movement. Take time to open and close the chest and use a range of movements in different planes (angles - not just forward and back).
Breathing well is essential for our physical and mental well-being. When you breathe well, you can improve oxygen delivery, physical performance, mental clarity, and relaxation. If you want to improve your breathing by practising a range of methods, then try a two-week free trial of my monthly membership today (cancel anytime) and notice how your breath impacts your body and mood.