Healthy Breathing

Throughout the day, become aware of how you are breathing. Sit or lie down. Give your attention to your breath and know when you breathe in and out. Breathe naturally without influencing the breath. When you are getting started, put one hand on your belly and one on your chest. When you inhale, do your belly and chest both rise, only your chest, or only your belly? Do you breathe through your mouth, nose, or both? Is your breathing quiet or can you hear it? Count the time it takes to inhale and exhale. Is your in-breath longer than your out-breath, equal, or shorter? Do you have a pause after the exhale?

When you experience stressful breathing, it will be shallow, fast, and rough. The inhale may be longer than the exhale. The breath will be in the chest with little belly breathing, and you may be breathing through your mouth. This could be your normal way of breathing or it may occur only when you are stressed.

A healthy, relaxed breath is deep, slow, and quiet. You want to breathe in a full breath, starting low in the belly, and effortlessly let the lungs release when they are full. If you have a full breath, your body will want to exhale. The exhale should be as long as or longer than the inhale. The exhale should squeeze the lungs of most of the old breath. Optimally, the body will rest and pause for a short time after the exhale and before a new inhale begins. This relaxed breathing will lower the fight or flight symptoms of increased blood pressure and higher heart rate. Healthy breathing helps you to relax and let go of stress.

To relax and deepen our breathing, we need to breathe with our diaphragm. The diaphragm is a membrane separating the lungs and heart from the abdomen. When the diaphragm is working properly, it is flexible and moves up and down with the breath. When we breathe in, it lowers, pushing the belly out. When we breathe out, it pushes up against the lungs, contracting the belly. The diaphragm should be the work horse of our breathing.  Diaphragmatic breathing allows us to utilize the lower parts of the lungs, which helps our breathing smooth out and lengthen.

Healthy breathing exercises work with this simple idea. When we are stressed, we breathe shallow, fast, and rough. When we are relaxed, our breathing deepens, slows down, and quiets. Some of us breathe as if we are stressed all the time. If we can learn to breathe deeper, slower, and quieter, we will feel more relaxed.