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Deep Breathing Exercises

Updated on April 21, 2013

Why You Need To Learn To Breathe

It seems silly to be writing about how to breathe. Don't we all learn to do that from the moment of our birth? Our tiny infant selves unconsciously and quite involuntarily mount the effort to open our lungs, feel the rush of air and expel it once again. And obviously, if you are reading this right now, you are still in fact breathing at this moment. We all know what happens when we stop.

But in an age of multi-tasking, sound bites, and 140 twitter characters, not to mention world tensions, global economic uncertainties and war, we have become a world of shallow breathers. Breathing only as much as will keep us alive but not truly expanding our lungs to drink in the oxygen we so desperately need.

Remembering and re-learning how to breathe is what this lens is about. How to stop the shallow unconscious stress-induced "shoulder" breathing and how to breathe deeply into our bellies. But it's more than that. By learning to breathe properly, I believe you will begin to change and heal. And if you change and heal and I do the same, maybe along the way, we'll bring about some peace, at least in ourselves, if not the world.

image: Breathe by Gemma Stiles ~ Flickr Creative Commons. Text added by Laura Peterson

Breathing Lessons

Breathe
Breathe

Image credit: breathe by Mae Chevrette ~ Flickr Creative Commons

So how do you breathe deeply? And what are the benefits to it? I've included a video below to show you what it looks like, but here are the basics.

Take a moment right now to take a normal breath. Don't think about what you are doing, just breathe normally. Do, however, pay attention to whether your belly moves and which way.

What commonly happens is people breathe with their shoulders. That is, your shoulders will rise when you inhale and fall when you exhale. Often, the belly doesn't come into play at all. The reason this is problematic is when you breathe this way, your lungs don't fill as completely with air as they could. And the bottom portion of your lungs is where the most efficient oxygen exchange occurs. So if you aren't breathing into those areas, you aren't oxygenating your body as efficiently or fully as you could.

When you are breathing properly, your belly should rise when you inhale, and fall when you exhale. Watch a baby or young child when they breathe and you'll see exactly what I mean. We all come into the world naturally breathing in a way that enhances all our body's functions.

Let's do a little exercise right now. Sometimes it helps to start out by lying on the floor, so after you read through my instructions, go find a comfortable spot.

Imagine that you have a balloon in your belly. When you inhale, imagine that the balloon is filling up the space in your belly, making your belly rise. As you exhale gently, imagine the balloon in your belly deflating. That's it. Now take a few slow, gentle breaths with this picture in your head.

While it may feel strange at first, it will start to feel more normal after a bit. If you get dizzy, it's ok, you're lying down! It is normal to feel a little dizzy when you are new to belly breathing. It should subside with practice.

When you breathe properly, there are incredible benefits. Here are just a few:

1. Your heart rate slows.

2. Your stress levels decrease.

3. The amount of cortisol (a stress hormone that can keep you from losing weight among other things) in your body decreases.

4. You give your organs a great internal massage (which aids digestion and elimination).

There are so many benefits, too many to name them all here. Two websites on the benefits of deep breathing that I like are:

18 Benefits of Deep Breathing

The Five Healing Benefits of Breath

Buy the books and CD's that will help you learn to breathe better.

Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing
Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing

I love Dr. Weil's excercises. The exercises I share in the lens are derived from here, though it's been a little bit since I've listened to it. There are 8 exercises included as well as background information on breathing. I can't recommend this highly enough. Go on, get it now!

 
Keep Calm and Breathe
Keep Calm and Breathe

While I haven't read this YET, just reading about it calmed me down. Full of breathing exercises to help manage stress, anxiety and so much more. Do you believe breathing can actually help you take control of your own body and help aid your body in healing itself? I most certainly do!

 

The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Body

"Improper breathing is a common cause of ill health. If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly. There's no single more powerful--or more simple--daily practice to further your health and well-being than breathwork." ~Dr. Andrew Weil

Diaphragmatic Breathing - How to breathe properly

Breathe by shawnzrossi
Breathe by shawnzrossi

Image credit: Breathe by shawnzrossi ~Flickr Creative Commons

Do you know how to breathe properly?

Are you a shoulder breather or belly breather?

See results

3 Easy Breathing Exercises You Can Do Right Now

Breathing well is perhaps the easiest, most inexpensive, most valuable thing you can do for your body. The following are 3 simple techniques to reduce stress, instantly release tensions and anger and just plain feel better. You can get behind that, right?

  1. This first technique is so simple, you won't believe me when I tell you it is amazingly effective. Use this anytime you feel stressed or overwhelmed and use it often throughout the day. Here it is. Read carefully. Stop what you are doing and breathe. Deeply. Slowly. Inhale, exhale, pause. Then repeat. Inhale, exhale, pause. And again. Inhale, exhale, pause. Three times in a row and you'll definitely feel it. Ten times and you're on top of the world. I'm serious when I say that this will produce amazing results for you. It is as close to "calm in a bottle" as you can get.
  2. For those times when you find it challenging to slow your breathing down (and believe me, you will have those times) because you are angry (or for other reasons), I find it very effective to take as deep a breath as I can, hold it for a second, then forcefully blow it all out. Like I'm trying to knock over whatever is causing me stress. Repeat as much as needed though be extra careful if you are driving or standing as this technique can cause more dizziness. But it will calm you down. When you are able to breathe calmly again, practice technique number one for extra calm.
  3. This last technique is one I often use when I find myself having trouble falling asleep. It seems to really help me quiet my mind and finally settle down. I suppose it's kind of like counting sheep because you are counting during the breath. Bottom line, it gives your brain something to focus on instead of the tapes that run AND it calms your body down. Here's how: Inhale while slowly counting to 4. Hold that breath for a count of 6. Then exhale for a count of 8. Feel free to repeat as often as you need to. I don't think the actual count is as important as simply doing the steps. I often feel instantly calm when I remember to use this little technique.

The Thoracic Diaphgram - The muscle that makes it all happen

Lung and Diaphgram Diagram
Lung and Diaphgram Diagram

Image By National Cancer Institute ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Any discussion of proper breathing must include information about the thoracic diaphragm. This is a sheet of muscle that stretches across the bottom of your rib cage, from front to back. It separates your abdominal cavity from your thoracic (chest) cavity. It also serves a very important role in helping you breathe. When the diaphragm contracts, it presses down into your abdominal cavity which helps your lungs be able to inflate more fully. It also gives your abdominal organs a nice massage because of the downward pressure. To fully grasp what is happening in my body It always helps me to see pictures and diagrms and so I'm sharing this image with you, in the hopes it helps you understand the diaphragm and how your body breathes best.

Did you have any idea you may be breathing incorrectly? - Do you do any type of breathing exercise?

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