It’s in Your Breath:
Healthy Breathing Techniques
Are you breathing properly? This may sound like a silly question, but most of us do not.
Watch Big Y Lead Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Carrie Taylor demonstrate belly breathing technique.
Many of us tend to take short, shallow breaths that flatten our abdominal muscles. This chest-based breathing prevents the large muscle between the lungs and lower torso, the diaphragm, from dropping down and allowing the lungs to fill completely with oxygen-rich air.
To identify how you breathe, place your hands gently on your belly. As you take a deep breath in, what happens to your stomach and ribs? If your stomach collapses and your ribs lift up high while expanding, you are breathing primarily in your chest.
The goal is to have a more natural breathing pattern where your stomach grows bigger as it fills with air and ribs stay relatively stationary while expanding at the end of your inhale. This pattern is often referred to as belly breathing.
One way to return to a natural breathing pattern is by practicing slow breathing techniques.
A 2018 meta-analysis1 found practicing slow breathing techniques impacts the nervous system as well as psychological well-being. Breath work can increase one’s level of comfort, relaxation and alertness while reducing anxiety, depression, anger and confusion.
Slow breathing techniques are referred to as pranayama, or yogic breathing, in yoga. By weaving pranayama into a yoga practice, you extend breath with control and focus. Breathing slowly and mindfully in this manner helps invite your mind to stay present.
Try yogic breathing for yourself.
- Sitting or lying on your back in a comfortable position, with a straight spine, place your hands on your stomach below your rib cage.
- With a closed mouth, take a deep breath in through your nose. If you’re congested or have an issue breathing through your nose, breathe through your mouth. Visualize sending breath down to your belly button region as you inhale, expanding the walls of your stomach out toward the walls of the room you’re in.
- Slowly exhale air through your nostrils with your belly button gently contracting toward your spine.
- Do this three times in a row. Notice what feels different—Do you feel more relaxed?
- Return to your typical breathing pattern for a few breaths.
- Continue with 1 to 2 more cycles of three deep belly breaths through your nose—With every breath, can you exhale slower than you inhale?
Nostril-based breathing is said to tap into the parasympathetic nervous system, helping to reduce heart rate, muscle tension and, in turn, biometric measurements such as blood pressure.
Weaving yogic breathing, or pranayama, into your daily routine may not only slow down your pace while keeping you present, you could also experience greater feelings of contentment and less stress and angst. And who wouldn't want that?