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We don't usually need to think about breathing too much — it just happens. But breathing is both an involuntary response and a voluntary one. We breathe on autopilot but at any moment we can change how we breathe. Remember the breathing from childbirth class? It affected your whole body and your stress levels, during a time when you really needed to be one with your body. So what about getting in tune with your breathing to help you every day?
Call it abdominal breathing, deep breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, it's all the same thing. Take a deep breath through your nose that fills your lungs and notice what happens to your lower belly — it rises as your diaphragm moves. Most of us have the ability to breathe this deeply, but rarely take advantage of the benefits. Diaphragmatic breathing allows a full oxygen exchange, which is how your body trades incoming oxygen for the carbon dioxide that's leaving your body. When you breathe shallowly you aren't getting enough air into the lower lungs where the blood vessels are that carry oxygen to cells. Deep breathing can help lower blood pressure and slow your heart rate. Pretty cool, right?
First off? Sit up straight
Turns out Mom was on to something when she told you to sit up straight. The proper posture makes all the difference in deep breathing, and many of us have horrible posture. What's the biggest culprit? It's your standard office chair, according to Loren Fishman, M.D., medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation in New York City. "Their backs tend to slope forward, which means it's hard to keep your spine straight," he shares.
How to compensate for crappy chairs? Keep both feet on the floor when sitting and relax those shoulders. Make yourself as vertical as possible by trying to picture a rope attached to your spine that's pulling you up. When you are standing up most of your weight should be shifted to the balls of your feet and your shoulders should be back. It takes time to develop these better posture habits, but the benefits are well worth it.
Deep breathing tricks
Think you can't change your breathing enough to feel a difference? Think again. Try a few of these tricks and see if you notice a difference in how you feel.
Double the exhale: A great way to take back control over your breathing is to force yourself to make the exhale twice as long as the inhale. Get your good posture on and inhale to a count of three, then exhale to a count of 6. After practicing for a while, you will be able to regulate the inhales and exhales without counting.
Dueling nostrils: This trick comes from the yoga practice Nadi Shodhana, and has an almost instant payoff. Press your fingertip to the side of your right nostril, then breathe deeply to fill your lungs. Remove the finger from your right nostril and press it to the side of your left nostril, then exhale.
Keep practicing that deep breathing and see what it can do for your overall well-being. Mom will be proud.