Your breath is on the job 24/7. But how well is it serving you when you’re stressed? Proper breathing plays a big role in how you act and react. The difference your breath can make between calm and chaos comes down to awareness and technique, especially diaphragmatic breathing.
Take a Breath
Let’s take a look at your breath awareness. Try this breathing exercise to help you assess how well you breathe:
1. Find a comfortable sitting position, then use a timer to count how many breaths you take in 60 seconds (full breath = an inhale followed by a brief pause and an exhale).
Now compare it to these typical rates:
• 10-16 breaths per minute – normal for most people
• 18+ breaths per minute – could be a sign that your breathing is too shallow and your anxiety level is above normal
2. Next, rest one hand just above the navel and place the other hand on your upper chest. Close your eyes and observe your breathing.
Are you breathing through your nose or your mouth?
Breathing inward through your nose is healthier because it brings in 10-20 percent more oxygen. The nostrils efficiently filter out dust and toxins in the air. They also warm and moisturize incoming air.
Which hand moves the most when you inhale?
If the hand on your chest moves most, then you primarily use those muscles to breathe. That can fatigue your body faster and could be a sign of backwards or reverse breathing. That is to say, breathing mainly from the chest instead of from the belly like diaphragmatic breathing.
Do you pause after each exhale?
A brief pause between breaths slows your breathing and calms the body.
Are you taking small breaths or large ones?
Taking small, frequent breaths means you’re breathing mainly into the upper part of the lungs. You’re not fully oxygenating the trillions of cells in your body that need it. As a result, you’re likely compromising your energy level and your health.
Diaphragmatic breathing: what 9 out of 10 people get wrong
Learn Diaphragmatic Breathing
If you’ve ever watched a baby breathe, you’ll see a perfect example of how we’re supposed to breathe. It’s natural and relaxed diaphragmatic breathing (the belly expands during this kind of breathing). Diaphragmatic breathing is also efficient because it takes in the most air with the least effort.
If you suffer from a distorted breathing pattern of any kind (i.e. backwards breathing), you can reprogram your body to breathe properly from the diaphragm. Try this:
1. Lie on your back and clasp both hands behind your head.
2. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nostrils as you arch your back.
3. Focus your attention on bringing oxygen into the base of your lungs. Feel your abdomen expand.
4. Exhale slowly, relax your back, and feel your abdomen contract.
5. Pause briefly, then repeat exercise. Find a breathing rhythm that is smooth and relaxing.
Breathe Stress Away
When stress strikes, here’s how to quickly bring your anxiety level down:
1. Exhale slowly. Squeeze the abdominal muscles to release as much air and tension as possible.
2. Inhale a deep, slow breath through the nose to the count of 4.
3. Exhale slowly and fully. Then count to 4.
4. Repeat exercise as needed.
Like a Baby
So remember: breathe from your diaphragm just like a baby. Being more aware of your breath and practicing these tips will help make you feel and function better.
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