Yup. Without knowing it, you might be messing up your sleep, mood, digestion, heart, nervous system, muscles, brain, and even the development of your teeth and face structure. Yikes!
On the flip side are all the benefits to be had from learning how to breathe correctly. These include more energy, better health, decreased anxiety, less fear, better relationships, and just a happier life in general.
Sounds pretty good, right? Let’s investigate what proper breathing is and how you can use it to optimize your health, well-being, and performance.
Correct breathing means you breathe in a way that is physiologically optimal for your body. It’s the way you were designed to breathe, only you were never taught how to.
If you’re like most people, your breathing pattern likely has some issues like, for example, over-breathing, chest breathing, and holding your breath.
Breathing habits like these lead to a shortage of oxygen and energy and are very stressful to the body.
The solution to these issues is to become aware of the way you breathe and then consciously reshape these patterns.
Let’s have a closer look at why this is so important.
The Consequences of Sucking at Breathing
Poor breathing habits can give rise to a lot of unexpected adverse effects. Some of the most crucial ones being:
- The nervous system becomes unbalanced — The breath has an immediate impact on the nervous system and plays a vital role in maintaining a balanced body. A dysfunctional breathing pattern, like a short and forced one, results in a tense body and much higher levels of stress.
- The airways get tighter — That makes it harder for the air to travel from the mouth to the lungs. As a result, your body has to work harder and breathe faster.
- The blood vessels constrict — Which can lead to higher blood pressure and force the heart to work harder.
- Less energy gets produced — Bad breathing decreases your body’s ability to deliver oxygen to the cells. The cells get stressed and have to prioritize survival instead of development.
Every single process in the body is dependent on oxygen. Some of our most work-intensive organs are:
- The brain — Uses 20% of the oxygen we consume. When there’s a shortage of oxygen, the brain will work slower, and since the brain regulates a lot of other functions in the body, these are also affected.
- The heart — Constantly active and beating about 100.000 times in a single day, the heart is a massive consumer of oxygen and shortage in supply means the heart can’t pump out blood as efficiently. That leads to bad circulation, and cold hands and feet.
- The muscles — Oxygen shortage makes the muscles go stiff, tense, and tired faster, which naturally has a negative effect on athletic performance.
Now, there are plenty more ways that poor breathing affects our bodies, including crooked teeth and “craniofacial abnormalities” but I won’t go into more depth here. I’m sure you get the point: Proper breathing is important.
The 5 Simple Principles of Proper Breathing
Luckily, changing your breathing habits isn’t all that complicated. All you have to do is adopt the following five simple principles, and you’ll be sure to make the most out of the 25,000 breaths you take every day:
1. Breathe through the nose
Every breath you take should go in and out through the nose. You can think of your nose as a little factory that refines and prepares the air coming in to be used by the body as efficiently as possible.
When you breathe through your mouth, the lungs get a lot more “unfiltered” air that is raw, cold, dry and full of viruses and bacteria. So, be kind to your lungs and breathe through your nose, will ya?
If you feel like your nasal passages are too tight to breathe trough, that’s most likely because you’ve been breathing through your mouth for so long that your nose has adapted.
It usually won’t take more than a couple of days of nose breathing to open up your nostrils again.
2. Breathe with the diaphragm
The air you breathe in through your nose should go all the way down in your belly. 70–80% of the inhaling should be done by the diaphragm so that your breathing is nice and deep. That has a couple of advantages:
- It helps your lungs with the gas exchange because it’s much more efficient in the lower parts of the lungs.
- The diaphragm ”massages” your liver, stomach, and intestines, giving these organs a rhythmical balance.
- The lymphatic system, which is important for your immune system, gets the help it needs to get rid of the waste products from the bowels.
- The pressure in the chest and belly is decreased so that the heart won’t have to work as hard.
- The chest becomes more relaxed, and so does the neck and shoulders. As a result, the likelihood of pain in these areas goes down.
3. Breathe relaxed
No matter what you want to do, you’ll do it better if you’re relaxed. Since your breathing reflects your thoughts and feelings, situations that make you feel tense also lead to tense and stressed breathing pattern. That way of breathing then leads to a lack of oxygen which, in turn, makes your body and brain even more stressed.
By taking control of your breathing and making it more relaxed, your body ”tunes in” and becomes relaxed as well, which leads to better functioning in general.
When your body is relaxed, your health is good, and your energy is high, it becomes easier to be happy and loving toward yourself and others.
4. Breathe rhythmically
Everything has a natural rhythm — the ocean waves, the seasons, the moon. Your body is no different. The rhythm of your heart is measured in EKG and the brain in EEG.
The hormones in the body follow our natural rhythm. One example is melatonin that is released when you’re going to sleep.
Optimal breathing is no different: When everything is in tune, your body functions at it’s very best.
5. Breathe silently
Coughing, snoring, sniffling and so on, are suboptimal breaths in disguise.
It’s easy to neglect all these sounds we make, but a breathing pattern that contains a lot of them puts a considerable strain on the body. The breath loses its rhythm, and we mess up principle number 4.
Before we sigh or cough we usually take a big breath which leads to irregular breathing. Snoring means we have to compensate through breathing faster.
A lot of us breathe quicker and louder when we talk. All these noises and talking lead to incorrect breathing.
How to Breathe Properly
That is important information, but it won’t help you unless you implement the habit of proper breathing into your life. Here’s how you do that:
1. Create Recurring ”Breath Check Triggers”
Choose five naturally occurring triggers to remind you to become aware of your breath every day. Formulate them as “If → Then plans” and spread them out throughout your day. Here are a few examples:
- If my alarm clock goes off → Then I will check my breathing.
- If I’ve put the last dish in the dishwasher → Then I will check my breathing.
- If I sit down at my desk → Then I will check my breathing.
- If I close my car door → Then I will check my breathing.
- If I turn off my bedroom light → Then I will check my breathing.
If you find it helpful, you can also use reminders like post-it notes or phone alarms to remind you. The important thing is you pause and adjust your breathing pattern several times every day.
2. Analyze Your Breathing Habits
To change something, you first need to become aware of what needs to be changed. So, pay attention to how you breathe in these different situations.
What’s your breath like at different times throughout the day? How does it change as your mental state changes? How do you breathe when you’re focused? Angry? Stressed? Driving? Watching TV? And so on.
Try to figure out when your breathing patterns are suboptimal and why it happens.
3. Adjust Your Breathing
Finally, adjust your breathing habits like this:
- Breathe through the nose. Close your mouth and place your tongue up the palate.
- Extend your exhale. Inhale for 2–3 seconds, exhale for 3–4 seconds, pause for 2–3 seconds and then repeat.
- Be ”proud.” Make sure your body posture is upright.
- Relax. Become aware of any tensions going on at this moment and let them go.
Take a moment right now to adjust your breathing, and it will be much easier to remember how to do it later. It can be helpful to put memorize these four keywords:
Nose → Exhale → Proud → Relax.
- Your regular breathing pattern is very likely bad for your body.
- You can feel, function, and perform much better by breathing correctly.
- Proper breathing means breathing through the nose, with the diaphragm, relaxed, rhythmically, and silently.
- To retrain your breathing habits, create recurring “breath check triggers,” analyze, and adjust your breathing according to the four keywords:
Nose → Exhale → Proud → Relax.
Thanks for reading — you take my breath away! 😏
This article was inspired by and based on The Power of Your Breath by Anders Olsson.