How to breathe for better health and wellness

How to breathe for better health and wellness

Shirley Meerson explains the technique to improve your breathing and soothe mind and body

Do you know that feeling you get when you have taken a nice deep breath?  It’s a satisfying experience.  Cleansing and nurturing.  Life feels in the moment.

How is your breathing right now?  Don't we generally assume its ok?  What if it could be more useful, more holistic?

Breathing is an essential of life that most people take for granted 

Even so, how can breathing be this important – since we have been doing it all our lives and with little thought?  And most probably all too often we have been using a less than advantageous technique.

Goodness !  Like we need another thing to think about?  Hey – let’s not stress over the stress that poor breathing habits produce.  Awareness and simple techniques can turn this around.

The purpose of breathing
Breathing provides two main functions to sustain us.  First is that, through the process of breathing, oxygen is carried to our organ systems and this movement of oxygen is necessary for survival.  Lack of oxygen can lead to illness and disease.  The second key role of breathing is to remove waste products.  It’s all about respiration on a cellular level.     

Chest or Diaphragm Technique
Where do you weigh in - chest or diaphragm?  There are two styles of breathing – chest breathing and diaphragmatic breathing.  Along with a hybrid of these.

Chest breathing is a common occurrence with people who have anxiety, emotional distress, are inactive (deskbound), or lead stressful lives.  The characteristics of chest breathing are when it is done for the most part from the mouth, too fast, or too shallow.  With this form of breathing the upper rib cage and shoulders move vertically with shoulders to the ears.  You’ve seen it and you’ve done it.  Chest breathing limits the body and mind in receiving sufficient oxygen and leaves the door wide open for illness, stress, muscle tension, and fatigue.

Diaphragmatic breathing is the proper technique to use.  It is full and natural breathing using the thin sheet of strong muscle, the diaphragm, which is situated below the lungs.  When you inhale, the diaphragm opens and stretches downward and so inflates the lungs.   And upon exhalation, the diaphragm contracts upward, decreasing the lung volume. The belly rises and falls with each breath we take.

How to breathe for better health and wellness

  • Get in a comfortable position
  • Place one hand on your abdomen
  • Begin your breathing and judge for yourself. Which way is your body moving?  Is your belly moving upward toward your chest or expanding fully outward, like you are blowing up a balloon? 
  • Let the rhythm be at its regular tempo.  It will by nature, slow itself down and become smooth and effortless
  • Do not hold onto the stress of tight muscles or thoughts.  Breathe and relax.  Your body and mind will be your teacher
  • Bring your breathing into your stomach - the stomach or abdomen whichever word you prefer to use.  This is one way to tell yourself to move the process lower and away from the upper chest.  Precisely though, the stomach is an organ located in the abdomen which is a region between the chest and pelvis
  • Hold the breath for a short and easy count.  Then exhale
  • At the time to exhale, you will feel your belly contract and become smaller

Ways to practice Diaphragm Breathing

If you are standing or sitting, your shoulders must be back and chest open.  It feels almost like the stance of an exercise.  This is great for your posture as well as reaping the benefits of proper respiration.

Lying in bed at night is a perfect time to slow down and breathe.  Close your eyes, set your intention mindfully, and breathe deeply.  The breath may be erratic at first and then it will even out.  Bring your attention with a gentle focus on your belly breathing and you will be off to dreamland in a flash.  Slow rhythmic breathing is the best for relaxation. It allows your mind to calm down and empty out a bit.  It is also very healing.

The process and thinking about breathing can at first seem odd – even backwards or reversed.  No one teaches us this basic life skill of breathing to wellness.  The true story is: to inhale is the expansion and exhale is the contraction. 

Can we heal ourselves by breathing?

By increasing the awareness of your own breathing patterns and shifting to more abdominal breathing, you can reduce muscle tension and anxiety that arises with stress-related thoughts.  Diaphragmatic breathing is the easiest way to evoke a relaxation response.  So, how would you like to neutralize stress when it creeps up on you - catches you off guard - keeps you awake at night - or has bothered you for days?  You can accomplish this with a simple tool that you carry with yourself everywhere and that is – breathing.

Your body feels superb if you will take the time to indulge in deep diaphragmatic breathing.  Your mind will feel at ease.  And your cells will thank you immensely!

Shirley Meerson is a Wellness Specialist, Cultural Aficionado, and Spa Expert.  She is the Founder of White Star Wellness, a multi-faceted company serving the spa, beauty care, healing, and travel communities.

Follow Shirley on Twitter @ShirleyMeerson and visit White Star Wellness for more information on Living Well