We take around 25,000 breaths a day and eliminate 70% of the toxins generated in our body through our lungs. If we don’t breathe in an optimum way, we not only restrict our oxygen intake but also the elimination of toxins from our body. Moreover, the way we breathe effects our respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal and muscular systems and has a general effect on our cognitive abilities, energy levels and sleep.
In short, poor breathing puts us at a higher risk of numerous health problems.
What Is Proper Breathing?
Each breath involves seven different muscles and muscle groups, though 80% of our breathing effort is meant to be carried by the diaphragm – the primary breathing muscle. Proper breathing is breathing in the most anatomically correct way, using the right muscles and getting the maximum amount of oxygen into the body with the minimum amount of energy.
To see correct breathing in action, look no further than babies. They are our breath gurus. You may have observed a baby sleeping soundly, noticing how their body expands as their breath is flowing from abdomen to chest with no restrictions. This is horizontal breathing, which happens at the belly and engages our diaphragm.
Unfortunately, nine out of ten of us have limiting or dysfunctional breathing patterns, most commonly vertical breathing. If you breathe vertically, weaker upper body muscles power your breathing effort instead of your diaphragm, limiting the effectiveness of your respiratory function. Unsurprisingly, vertical breathing has been linked to many health problems, including high blood pressure, digestive issues, back pain and stress.
Are You a Vertical or a Horizontal Breather?
To keep your body and mind operating in an optimum state, you need to learn to breathe correctly. The first step in this journey involves discovering your unique breathing pattern.
As a Breath Coach, I analyse my clients’ breathing patterns and diaphragm activity in detail to form an overall picture from a number of factors.
However, there are few quick exercises you can do to kick-start your self-analysis. Here is a quick test to see if you are a vertical or horizontal breather. Let’s do it together.
Continuing to breathe the way you do every day (try not to change it):
• Sit up straight in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor
• Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach, over your belly-button
• As you continue to breathe, observe and notice the movement for a few minutes under your hands (on your chest and stomach) and of your shoulders.
Following this observation, if the following sentences resonate with you, you are a vertical breather:
· The hand on my chest was moving more than the hand on my stomach.
· My shoulders moved up (towards my ears) as I inhaled and down as I exhaled.
· I noticed my neck engage (or even tense up) on inhalation, then relax on exhalation.
· I noticed contraction in my abdomen (holding in).
If, on the other hand, you identify with the following, you are a horizontal breather:
· The hand on my abdomen was moving more than the hand on my chest.
· My shoulders and neck were still as I inhaled.
· I felt as if my body expanded horizontally on inhalation and retracted on exhalation.
To encourage horizontal breathing and dismantle a vertical breathing pattern, try this:
· Release and relax your shoulders and upper back.
· Allow your stomach to rise and swell outwards as you inhale.
· If possible, remove restrictive clothing especially around the stomach, such as belts.
· Ground yourself in the present and notice any tendency to hurry or strain unnecessarily.
What To Do Next
Learning to breathe properly and establishing this as your natural breathing pattern is a life-changing journey.
We’ve just launched three Conscious Breathing Workshops with Melike at Gazelli House – you can find out more and book here..