Master this breathing technique to unlock your body and enhance your overall wellbeing
We all breathe. But the problem is, most of us do not breathe properly. And few people understand the impact improper breathing has on mobility, strength, and power. Correcting and realigning with the proper breathing biomechanics that we were designed for can improve not only our workouts but our overall wellness and daily life. (Big statement, I know, but it’s absolutely true.)
Are you a chest breather or belly breather?
Observe right now, in this very moment, whether your chest is lifting or if your belly is expanding as you inhale. Don’t try to change your breathing, just observe it’s a natural state. How long did you inhale and exhale for and where the duration of each comparable?
If you noticed you’re breathing primarily into your chest with a relatively large inhales and a shorter exhales, you are a shallow chest breather, along with 90% of the population. You’re not alone. But we need to change that.
Shallow breathing dysfunctionally recruits accessory muscles such as your chest (pectorals), neck (scalenes and sternocleidomastoid), and upper trap musculature to inflate the chest and hold your ribcage in place, which takes your scapulae (shoulder blades) with it. Your body then uses the recoil of these muscles along with a dropping of the shoulders to perform the work of the diaphragm (dispelling air from your lungs).
This, unfortunately, can cause chronic tension, limitations in the neck, shoulder, and back, and poor posture, all making you more susceptible to injury.
Nervous system response
Chest breathing has a purpose. It’s intended for our stressed states (like running from a bear!) as it stimulates the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS – aka, our fight or flight response). But when we chest breathes in what is supposed to be our relaxed state, we, in turn, trigger that same stress response.
If you’re someone who spends excess time living in a sympathetic state (anxiety, high stress, lack of sleep, overtraining), you are adding unnecessary stress to your body which ultimately, is shaving years off your life.
This is how we are meant to breathe. Yay, you. But so often we get pulled out of this pattern from either the stress mentioned above, postural changes from poor lifestyle habits, previous injuries, or trying to hold our bellies in all day long.
Biomechanics and nervous system response
Belly breathing relies on your diaphragm, intercostal muscles, internal obliques, and transversus abdominis (TVA), activating our Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) and shifts us into a relaxed state which optimizes our body for rest, recovery, and digestion.
Why is this important
Our ability to fully expand and contract the belly on our inhales and exhales increases lung capacity, improves sleep, digestion, and overall health and wellness, ensures a healthy relationship with the pelvic floor, deep core musculature, and diaphragm. (Postpartum ladies, get on this one), and gets our bodies moving properly. Contrary to what many people believe, core strength isn’t just about holding in our core and keeping our abs tight. The diaphragm is the king of the core.
From dysfunctional chest breather to functional belly breather
The best place to start if you’re new to re-learning or re-wiring this breathing pattern is in a prone position (on your belly). Once you’ve mastered breathing in all four directions on your belly (belly into the floor, ribs laterally out to the sides, low back to the ceiling), you can practice supine/on your back, seated, standing and while walking.
Prone belly breathing
- Lay on your belly and make a pillow with your hands to rest your forehead. Focus on deeply inhaling and exhaling through your nose. You can exhale through your mouth but consistently breathe in through the nose. Try a 4-5 count inhale, a 4-5 count exhales, and a 4-5 count hold when empty.
- As you Inhale, actively try to expand your abdomen and breathe your belly into the floor as well as breathe laterally into your side waist, as if your waist is an accordion.
- As you exhale, slowly let all the breath out with control. Feel empty at the bottom of your breath, gently engaging the deep core musculature. Hold for 4-5 counts to allow the diaphragm to functionally engage and initiate a proper inhale.
- Set a timer for 2 minutes (don’t poke your head up until the timer goes off).
Practice anywhere and practice often
Working on breathing mechanics for just two minutes a day can significantly restore mobility. It also hardwires your body to begin naturally breathing in this way.
And if you’re a mouth breather, breathing through your mouth most often means you’re a shallow chest breather. I like to say that breathing through your mouth is sort of like trying to eat through your nose. (Not really, but, you get the point).