Take a slow, deep breath through your nose and into your belly. Now, slowly exhale to the count of 5.
Congratulations, you just completed a controlled breathing exercise!
Breathing exercises, like the one you just did, reduce stress, improve focus, and boost the immune system.
People have been using methods like these for centuries, but you might not know about them.
It’s not clear when the disconnect between the ancient art of breathing and modern medicine started, but it’s time for it to end.
“Breathing is massively practical,” says breath expert and psychologist Dr. Belisa Vranich. Breathing properly, she maintains, is the single most important intervention you can make for your own health.
Slowly but surely, science is beginning to catch up on the ancient practice of controlled breathing.
For example, studies have found that breathing practices can reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, PTSD, ADD, and depression.
And there are dozens of studies in the works right now exploring how breathing in specific patterns can affect the nervous system, digestion, inflammation, disease, and more.
Now you’re probably thinking “Of course breathing is important, that’s why I do it all day.”
The problem is that the vast majority of us are breathing the wrong way.
From Mouth to Nose
Controlled breathing not only affects our physiology instantly but also retrains us to breathe in the correct way.
The overwhelming majority of us breathe through our mouths, into our chests, and back out again.
We are breathing vertically, not horizontally.
This method of breathing keeps us alive and oxygenates our bodies, sure, but over time it could be causing health problems.
Breathing expert James Nestor says in his book Breaththat “Mouthbreathing changes the physical body and transforms airways, all for the worse. Inhaling air through the mouth decreases pressure, which causes the soft tissues in the back of the mouth to become loose and flex inward, creating less space and making breathing more difficult. Mouthbreathing begets more mouthbreathing.”
He goes on to say “the nose, on the other hand, filters, heats and treats raw air. Most of us know that. But so many of us don’t realize — at least I didn’t realize — how inhaling through the nose can trigger different hormones to flood into our bodies, how it can lower your blood pressure, how it monitors heart rate … even helps store memories.”
If you are breathing through your mouth as you read this it’s ok! We can easily re-train ourselves to switch to nasal breathing as the norm.
Now, on to the belly.
Just above your stomach is a major muscle in the respiration process, the diaphragm.
Just as the heart pumps blood to the body, the diaphragm pumps air in and out of our bodies.
Engaging the diaphragm is how human bodies are designed to breathe. It is the most efficient way to oxygenate our bodies and it provides a wide range of health benefits when engaged properly.
If you notice your shoulders and chest moving as you breathe, you are probably not engaging the diaphragm. Again, don’t worry! This is why you’re here.
The first step to retraining yourself to breathe correctly, and reaping the health benefits, is by practicing controlled breathing exercises.
To practice a free controlled breathing exercise focused on form and technique, click here.