Humor me and do a quick experiment… Sit up straight with good posture where you’re at. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Close your eyes for about 30 seconds and feel your pattern of breathing. (In this previous blog post, I explained how posture effects breathing). What do you notice? Is one hand moving more than the other indicating the muscles in your chest or in your belly doing most of the work? Or do your breaths resemble symmetrical and smooth ebbs and flows or rigid and quick bursts of movement?
Each day, the average person takes about 21,600 breaths totaling around 11,000 liters of air in a day! Of that 11,000 liters of air, is roughly 550 liters of pure oxygen taken in each day… just through breathing. That oxygen is essential for bodies’ functions and more specifically is delivered to all of your muscles to metabolize energy. In the same way that a strong enduring building needs a solid foundation to be built on, your body needs a strong foundation at the core for optimal and longstanding function. Correct breathing is a big part of that foundation and effects the stability of your body and limbs, your nervous system, heart, digestive system, muscles, sleep, energy levels, concentration and even your memory.
So back to my experiment… What did you notice about your breathing pattern? The most noticeable incorrect trend in our culture is “chest breathing.” This happens when you use muscles from your neck, chest, and intercostals (muscles in-between ribs) instead of using the muscles deep in your belly. Chest breathing is not ergonomic as it uses more muscle power than the deeper and more relaxed abdominal breathing. Additionally, when the chest muscles are used to breath, more breaths per minute are needed to receive the same amount of oxygen as with belly breathing. This deep abdominal breathing is much more functionally effective and is established when the abdomen expands forward, to both sides and also back towards the spine, 360°. For example, if you were wearing sweat pants with the elastic band around your true waist at the base of your ribs, you should be able to feel the elastic expand all the way around. Don’t be discouraged, though, if you don’t feel that when you first try; belly breathing surprisingly takes a bit of concentration and practice at first. If you want a visual of this skill, watch the youtube video below.
Efficient, functional, and natural breath occurs when you recruit your diaphragm, a parachute-shaped muscle that contracts upon inhalation. If you need to see a great example of correct breathing, your toddlers model it well! If you ask your kiddo to lay face up on the ground, you’ll see his little belly get big, expanding out with inhalation and compress back down with exhalation. Whether we’ve learned to chest breathing from trying to keep our stomachs flat and strong or if it’s simply a result of stress and anxiety, taking some time to relax, relearn the basics, and breath efficiently will add many years to your life.