It’s an everyday, vital activity to life: breathing is automatic and we do it all day, everyday. But somehow, most of us are doing it wrong.
Breathing is the way in which we deliver oxygen to the cells in our body; it is one of the most important, and free, compounds for us to have. Breathing incorrectly or breathing poor-quality air can result in a limited amount of oxygen reaching our muscles. So, if you’re not breathing effectively, you could be causing problems to your sleep, mood, digestion, heart, nervous system, muscles, brain, and even the development of your teeth and facial structure.
You’re Probably Not Breathing Right
So you might be skeptical at this point: how can I not be breathing right if I’m alive, right? Well, you might be getting oxygen into your body, but you’re probably not doing it in the most effective way possible. Key examples of ways you might be breathing incorrectly are: over-breathing, holding your breath and shallow breathing.
One common group of people are breathing wrong are people who breathe through their mouths. First of all, we shouldn’t breathe like this; our bodies are designed to breathe through the nose. If you’re someone who breathes through your mouth then when you inhale, the breath only reaches your chest, creating shallow breathing: here it is not most effective at oxygenating the rest of your body.
If this is a habit you’ve adopted for a long time, or if you have issues with you airways and nose, then changing this might be easier said than done - but in the long term, becoming a nose breather will result in more oxygenating breathing, as well as better oral and physical health. But don’t worry: both of our exercises detailed below will be able to help you!
To analyze and optimize your breathing: take a breath and make sure that your intake of air starts in your nose and reaches all the way down to your diaphragm. Also make sure that the breath is relaxed, has a regular rhythm and that it’s silent.
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Breathing Exercises – What is Breathwork?
One way to improve your breathing is through breathwork. Though you might think this is another health and wellness trend, breathwork has been used for centuries and has strong foundations in the practice of yoga.
The benefits of breathing techniques are the control of your breathing and the way it makes you mindful of the way in which you are doing it. Breathing is second nature to us, so when we actually think about it, it can affect the way we feel about both ourselves and what is going on around us: increasing mindfulness.
How Can Breathing Exercises Help?
Our main reason for breathing is to absorb oxygen and get rid of the carbon dioxide that is in our bodies; there are also other times when our breathing is utilised or affected. When we are in situations where we experience stress and anxiety, one of the first reactions is to alter our breathing. Often overbreathing kicks in: short, shallow breaths that don’t reach our diaphragms. This response increases feelings of stress and anxiety, so knowing the breathing exercise that recover your breath will help you when you find yourself in this position.
Breathing exercises work with the nervous system to help with aspects of heart rate and stress. This means the physical responses of stress and anxiety are reduced and our minds begin to calm down. Breathing exercises have the benefit that they can be initiated at anytime of the day and in any situation: at work, during travel or in most daily activities. So unlike yoga or meditation, breathing exercises are a handy alternative to de-stress and relieve anxiety.
You can use exercises when you are feeling a heightened emotional, stressful or anxious state, but you can also feel the benefits by including them in your daily routine; just like any other exercise. Working on breathwork practices daily can help you, if you regularly suffer from stress or anxiety, as well as helping control you mental, physical and emotional health. Other health conditions that breathwork can also help are low blood pressure and lung disease (COPD).
Try Some Breathing Exercises
Exercise #1: Alternate Nostril Yoga Breathing
This exercise can be good for reducing stress and inducing sleep, as it helps keep your mind relaxed and limits your thoughts from jumping around, because of your deep focus on what your nostrils are doing.
Step 1: To begin, place your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale through the left nostril.
Step 2: Lift your thumb and place your right ring finger over your left nostril and exhale through your right nostril.
Step 3: Leave your ring finger on your left nostril and inhale through the right one - alternating the steps above.
Getting into the rhythm can be a little difficult, but with your focus on this, any other thoughts won’t be clouding your mind.
Exercise #2: Diaphragmatic Breathing
If you are prone to anxiety, this exercise might do you some good. This can also help people optimize their breathing: the deep breathing through the nose down to our bellies illustrates the way we are designed to breath.
Step 1: Lie down or sit with your shoulders back, and put one hand on your chest and the other on your lower belly.
Step 2: Breathe in through your nose and inhale deeply, so that the breath reaches your lower belly. Your belly should expand as you inhale and fall as you exhale. Do this for 5 to 10 breaths.
Step 3: With the hand that is on your lower stomach, apply a slight amount of pressure to the area between your navel and lower belly. This encourages the breath to move into this space by engaging the movement of the diaphragm.
Step 4: Keep breathing deep into your lower belly, and with the hand that is on you chest, encourage the breath to move up into your chest. The breath should move deeply from your belly into your upper hand. When exhaling, the breath should simply fall from your body.
Step 5: Repeat this for 10 breaths, helping to create a natural deep breathing rhythm.
Exercise #3: The 4-7-8 Exercise
The 4-7-8 is also known as the relaxing breath exercise, and it’s recommendable to those in highly emotional or stressful situations, as well as a way to promote sleep. It’s super simple and can so be done in any environment and in any position.
Step 1 - Sit with your back straight or lie down - generally just be comfortable. Place your tongue against the top of your front teeth. Throughout the exercise, don’t move it from this position.
Step 2 - Exhale completely through your mouth, emptying your lungs of all air. Your exhale should be audible.
Step 3 - Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose for a count of four.
Step 4 - Hold this breath for a count of seven.
Step 5 - Exhale completely through your mouth, emptying your lungs of all air, audibly, for a count of eight.
Step 6 - This process counts as one breath, now repeat this for three more times for a total of four breaths.
To get the maximum benefits, don’t apply this to more than four breaths initially. Focus on quality, deep breathes rather than prolonging the activity. The pacing or rate you count at is not as important as keeping the ratio constant: your exhale should always be double that of your inhale.
All of these exercises can be developed with daily practise, and you’ll be able to utilise them in stressful and emotional situations as well as to induce sleep. Breathing exercises can also simply help you breathe better: effectively inhaling, exhaling, using your diaphragm and breathing how your body was designed to. By altering your approach to breathing and being more aware of the process, you will benefit from having better control over your emotions, manage mental states and improve your physical health by increasing the amount of oxygen that is reaching your body’s muscles and cells.