Yes, there's a best way to breathe -- here are 3 steps to getting it right.
We all know that breathing is important — there’s a reason why the Bible refers to the “breath of life.” Life doesn’t exist without breath, which is one reason this pandemic and the respiratory distress it can cause is so frightening.
What you might not know is that there’s a right way to breathe, and a wrong way … and unfortunately, most of us are doing it wrong. Which is bad, because improper breathing not only makes us more susceptible to respiratory illness, but also lowers our immune system by inducing a state of chronic stress. Now more than ever, it’s vital that we make sure we’re breathing right — so here’s how to do it.
1Breathe through your nose
I know, I know – most of us hate being told to breathe through our noses, especially during exercise. It’s just plain hard to breathe through your nose if you’ve become habituated to the feeling of a great rush of oxygen rapidly fill your chest. But our lungs weren’t designed to work like that. Human beings naturally breathe through the nose as infants, which filters the air and prompts the sinuses to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide has powerful vasodilating effects, which means when it reaches the lungs it expands blood vessels, allowing for a much greater exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Basically, breathing through your nose gives you more oxygen and gets rid of more carbon dioxide.
2Release your diaphragm
The diaphragm is the muscle that sits at the bottom of your chest and pulls down like an umbrella to expand your lungs and allow them to fill with air. When your diaphragm releases properly, your belly expands along with your lungs. But many of us have been conditioned to hold our stomachs in, preventing proper diaphragmatic breathing and causing us to take shallow breaths through the chest and shoulders. If your shoulders rise up towards your ears when you breathe and your belly stays flat, your diaphragm isn’t releasing to allow your lungs to expand.
To correct this, get on all fours in a tabletop position and relax your belly. Then relax it more. Now take a deep breath in (through your nose!) — you should feel your belly expand as your diaphragm releases and contract as your diaphragm engages. Your diaphragm might have become tight after years of improper release, so it might take some practice to get the hang of proper diaphragmatic breathing. But don’t give up – releasing the diaphragm is essential to maintaining healthy lung function, so relax that belly and fill those lungs the way God intended.
3Expand your ribs
Another crucial element of proper breathing mechanics is the expansion and contraction of the rib cage. Once you have the hang of breathing through your nose and letting your belly expand, look in the mirror and watch what happens with your rib cage during inhalation and exhalation. It should expand 360° and then contract as you exhale—but the front of your rib cage shouldn’t rise up toward the ceiling. Rib flare is a common phenomenon that not only prevents full expansion of the lungs, but also contributes to poor posture, lower back pain, and increased pressure on the lumbar spine. Luckily, there’s an easy way to teach yourself to strengthen your intercostals (the muscles between those ribs): tie a stretchy resistance band or even a pair of tights around your rib cage. As you inhale (through your nose!), expand your rib cage 360°. You should be able to feel the pressure from the band all the way around your rib cage (even those ribs in your back) before exhaling and reversing the process by contracting those ribs as much as possible. If you’re doing this properly, your rib cage and your abdomen should expand and contract with each breath — you’ll be able to feel your abdominal muscles engage as you exhale and your ribs contract. Practice a few times a day until you get familiar with the sensation of expanding and contracting your ribs, and then continue this without the band.
Don’t be discouraged if any of these three steps are difficult for you to master — a lifetime of poor breathing mechanics is an incredibly hard habit to unlearn! But commit to regular practice. Block off time to practice breathing, which might sound silly until you realize how different breathing feels when you’re doing it right. Your stress level will drop, your energy will increase, and most importantly, you’ll have strong, healthy lungs to keep you living your best life!