No doubt you’ve seen it on a bumper sticker, or you’ve heard it from a fitness trainer or even a well-meaning friend when you’re freaking out about something; breathe!
We are all breathing all the time but many of us are doing it wrong – yes, that’s possible. Check out your own breathing pattern while you’re reading this. Does your belly expand on the inhale and contract on the exhale? Do your ribs expand to the sides on the inhale? Do you feel expansion in the back of the ribcage with an inhale? Do your shoulders lift with each breath? How many breaths did you take in a minute? How fast, slow, shallow or deep do you breathe?
How well (or not) you breathe impacts everything from your mental health to your physical ability. With everything I study and teach, from yoga to Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilisation, it all begins with breathing better. So, how do you breathe better? To start, we actually use the muscle that is there for the breath, the diaphragm. When it contracts (inhale) it presses down into the abdominal cavity pushing the belly out a bit but also allowing the chest to expand. The ribs can expand outwards changing the pressure in the thoracic cavity and this means the inhale becomes easier and we don’t need to involve a bunch of muscles to breathe in. When we stop using these extra muscles to inhale we gain all that precious energy to be put to use elsewhere, and we can ease tension in the neck and shoulders. When we allow this breathing pattern we create intra-abdominal pressure which engages our core muscles, creates stability in the core supporting our back, another win. To exhale we relax the diaphragm, and we relax our minds.
The breath is connected to our nervous system, deepening the breath, particularly the exhale, switches us into the Parasympathetic Nervous System or our relax/restore response. Too many of us are permanently in our Sympathetic (stress, fight/fight/freeze) response, which then further inhibits deep breathing which further inhibits relaxation……sensing the pattern? Deep slow breaths are important for our nervous system and so contribute to our mental health.
Breathing correctly helps oxygenate the body better and so gives the cells more energy to do their work, with less waste products. This means our physical capacity to do everything from digest our food to run is impacted by the breath.
So we allow the belly, ribs, back and chest expand with the inhale, utilising the lung capacity. Think of your lungs as a balloon, expand in all directions with the inhale, let it release with the exhale. Slow it down, focus on it and practice. Those who know me have seen the little gold dot stickers on my phone, around my house and car, they are reminders to breathe, and breathe properly. Do whatever works to remind you but get this right and your body and mind will thank you for it.