How to Breathe Properly – A (Surprisingly Important) Complete Guide
Did you know that your regular breathing pattern is very likely to change your body and its functions in tons of different ways?
Without knowing it, you might be messing up your sleep, mood, digestion, heart, nervous system, muscles, brain and even the development of your teeth and face structure.
On the flip side are all the benefits to be gained from learning a few simple principles for proper breathing.
These would be more energy, improved health, greater harmony, less anxiety, less fear, better relationships and just a happier life in general.
Sounds pretty good right?
[Note: This article is based on The Power of Your Breath by Anders Olsson.]
So, what is correct breathing anyway? In short, it means breathing in a way that is physiologically optimal for your body. It’s the way you’re designed to breathe; only you were never taught how to.
Most of us breathe in a way that leaves a lot of room for improvement. Some examples would be over-breathing, holding our breath and shallow breathing.
These breathing patterns are very stressful for the body and lead to a shortage of oxygen and energy.
The solution to these issues is to become highly conscious of the way you breathe and reshape your habitual way of breathing.
So, why is this important?
The Consequences of Sucking at Breathing
Bad breathing habits can give rise to a lot of unexpected adverse effects on our health and well-being. Some of the most crucial ones being:
The nervous system becomes unbalanced – The breath is vital to maintaining a balanced body because each breath has an immediate effect on the nervous system. Imagine inhaling being the gas and exhaling the breaks. A dysfunctional breathing habit, like a short and forced one, results in a tense body and much higher levels of stress.
The airways get tighter – Which makes it harder for the air to make its way to and from the lungs. To compensate, we have to work harder and breathe faster to get the same work done.
The blood vessels constrict – Which can lead to higher blood pressure and which in turn makes the heart work harder.
Less energy is produced – Bad breathing lessens the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to the cells. The cells get stressed and have to prioritize survival instead of development.
Every single one of the processes in the body is dependent on oxygen. Some of our most work-intensive organs are:
- The brain – Uses 20% of the oxygen we consume. When there’s a shortage of oxygen, the brain will work slower, and since the brain regulates a lot of other functions in the body, these are also affected.
- The heart – Constantly active and beating about 100.000 times in a single day the heart is a massive consumer of oxygen and shortage in supply means the heart can’t pump out blood as efficiently. That leads to bad circulation, and the result can be cold hands and feet.
- The muscles – Oxygen shortage hurts stamina as the muscles go stiff, tense and tired faster.
Now, there are plenty more ways that bad breathing effects our bodies, including crooked teeth and “craniofacial abnormalities” but I won’t go into more depth here as I think you get the idea.
The 5 Easy Principles of Proper Breathing
The nose is for breathing, the mouth is for eating. -Proverb
Wow, that’s a whole lot of crappy aversive effects you might think. And you’d be right. Luckily there are five simple principles to follow to optimize your breathing and gain all the positive effects that come with it.
Here’s how to make more of the 25.000 breaths you take every day more relaxed and harmonic while reducing breaths that are stressed and tense. It’s quite easy once you get the hang of it:
1. Breathe through the nose
The breath should go in and out through the nose. Your nose is kind of like a factory that refines and prepares the air coming in to be used by the body as efficiently as possible.
When you breathe through your mouth, the lungs get a lot more “unfiltered” air that is raw, cold, dry and full of viruses and bacteria. Be kind to your lungs and breathe through your nose, will ya?
If you feel like your nose is way too stuffy to close your mouth that’s most likely because you’ve been breathing through your mouth for so long that your nose has adapted.
Usually, it won’t take more than a couple of days of nose breathing to open up your nostrils again.
2. Breathe with the diaphragm
The air you breathe in through your nose should go all the way down to your belly. Your breathing muscles consist of the diaphragm and muscles in the abdomen, chest, neck, and shoulders.
70-80% of the inhaling should be done by the diaphragm so that your breathing is nice and deep. That has a couple of advantages:
- It helps your lungs with the gas exchange which is much more efficient way down in the lungs.
- The diaphragm massages your liver, stomach, and intestines and gives these organs a rhythmical balance.
- The lymphatic system, which is essential for our immune system, gets the help it needs to get rid of the waste products from the bowels.
- The pressure in the chest and belly is decreased so that the heart won’t have to work as hard.
- More effective muscle work as the wrong breathing muscles won’t have to do unnecessary work.
- When the chest gets more relaxed, so does the neck and shoulders, and as a result, the likelihood of pain in these areas go down.
3. Breathe relaxed
No matter what we want to do, we do it better if we are relaxed. Since our breathing reflects our thoughts, feelings and physical body, it means that situations that have us feeling stiff also lead to tense and stressed breathing. This way of breathing then leads to a lack of oxygen which in turn makes the body and brain even more stressed.
By taking control of our breathing and making it more relaxed, our body tunes in and becomes relaxed as well which leads to better functioning in general.
When the body is relaxed, health is good, energy is high, and it becomes easier to be happy and loving toward yourself and others.
4. Breathe rhythmically
Everything has a natural rhythm – the ocean waves, the seasons, the moon. Your body is no different. The rhythm of the heart is measured in EKG and the brain in EEG.
The hormones in the body follow our natural rhythm. One example the melatonin that is released when we’re going to sleep.
Optimal breathing is no different; it’s in the rhythm we find well-being. When everything is in tune, the body functions at it’s very best.
5. Breathe silently
Coughing, snoring, sniffling and so on are suboptimal breaths in disguise.
It’s easy to neglect all these sounds we are making, but a breathing pattern that contains a lot of these elements is a considerable strain on the body. The natural breath falls out of its rhythm, and we mess up principle number 4.
Before we sigh or a cough we usually take a big breath which leads to irregular breathing. Snoring means we have to compensate through breathing faster.
A lot of us breathe quickly and even louder when we talk. All these noises and talking lead to incorrect breathing.
5 Easy Ways to Proper Breathing
Ok great, but how do I implement correct breathing into my own life?
1. Conscious breathing – Become aware of how you breathe during different parts of the day. A practical tip for this is to let your phone alarm go off every hour or so and check your breathing each time it does. Are you breathing relaxed, rhythmically, silently and deeply through your nose? Is there room for improvement in this particular situation?
2. Breathe through your nose – A closed mouth, with the tongue placed on the palate, ensures that the breathing happens in and out the nose. If your nose is stuffy, do a sinus rinse.
3. Extended exhale – An extended exhale increases the relaxation and makes the inhale deeper and more rhythmical. For optimal breathing, the inhale should be 2-3 seconds, exhale 3-4 seconds followed by a pause for 2-3 seconds. The extended exhale also has a positive effect on the inhale which gets deeper.
4. Straight posture – An upright position gives a deeper breathing where the diaphragm gets more space to work. Your thoughts and feelings are affected positively, and at the same time, it gets easier to breathe through the nose.
5. Body consciousness – Be aware of your body and how tense or relaxed it is in different situations. A comfortable body makes it easier to keep a rhythmical and relaxed breathing.