How The Way You Breathe Can Change Your Life
If you are speed-reading this article there’s a good chance that you’re not “breathing.” In your mind you think, “of course I’m breathing. I am alive. If I wasn’t breathing I wouldn’t be around to read this.” However, if you were truly breathing deeply, you could completely agree that you have enough time, you have mental clarity and your body is tension-free. Did you score well in that checklist? If not, I invite you to learn more about this breathing stuff.
Anatomy of breath
It’s really challenging to assess your breathing pattern when you don’t understand where your breath goes. Here is a quick anatomy lesson on breathing:
- You have 12 ribs.
- The ribcage is designed to protect your lungs, heart and other organs.
- Your first rib and the apex of your lung are located in the space between your neck and your shoulder joint.
- The base of your lung lies at the border where you stop feeling a rib just above your waistline.
- When you exhale, a muscle called the diaphragm relaxes and becomes dome shaped and your ribs retract.
- When you inhale, your ribs expand and the diaphragm should lengthen and lower like an elevator allowing air to move into the bottom of your lungs.
- Your abdomen and lower back should expand.
- This is called diaphragmatic breathing.
Breath And Stress
If you consider the number of breaths it takes to stay alive, you can appreciate that breathing alone can be a source of repetitive strain for injuries and stress. This is an interesting concept. When you are under stress, you want to move faster and more efficiently. This spikes your adrenaline and triggered by the sympathetic nervous system to quicken or suspend your breathing pace so you can either attack or run away from your attacker. In the modern world though, the “attacker” could be your screaming two year old or work deadlines. The body’s physiological reaction doesn’t really make sense. Stress is a part of life. Therefore, you need to find ways to recognize the times when your breath is shallow and suspended and return to a deeper breath towards groundedness.
Are You A Chest Breather Or A Diaphragmatic Breather?
To assess your breath, lie on your back. Take a deep breath in and observe where your ribs expand. If your chest predominantly expands this is called “chest breathing” or “shallow breathing”. In this pattern, the diaphragm is tense. Chest breathers tend to have chronic tension headaches, a clenched jaw, tight hands and chest and neck and mid back pain.
If your abdomen and lower back expand during inhalation, then this is called diaphragmatic breathing. Tension-free, the diaphragm lowers and allows air to fill the lower lobes of the lungs. This takes tension away from the neck, jaw and shoulders. When your breathing is full, your energy is “grounded.” It is easier to be mindful of your surroundings and the pace of life seems to slow down. Another unexpected side effect is that your vocal projection improves. If you are a speaker or vocalist, this is very important to your success.
A Strategy For Deeper Breathing
Unfortunately, the breathing pattern that you adopt is similar to having a “breathing personality.” It is very difficult to switch patterns. For this reason, shallow breathers should find moments to tap into their diaphragmatic breathing. We inherently call this “taking a breather.” The best time to return to our breath is during transitional periods like walking, driving, hand washing, bathing, brushing our teeth and eating. Eventually, you grow accustomed to the breath patterns and the moments of deeper breathing increase during the day. Don’t take it for granted. Start breathing!