Many Americans don't breathe properly. It’s not our fault, most of us were never taught how. We didn’t see it modeled by our parents, it wasn’t taught in schools and no one really talks about it. It's just not a valued part of our culture; in fact in my observation many people are afraid to be heard breathing.
Since kindergarten we have been told to be quiet, sit still and pay attention. There is a subtle cultural undertone that tells us that we aren't allowed to take up space. We are not allowed to make noise and be heard. Bodily functions are embarrassing and should be kept to ourselves. Man are we uptight! Literally.
There are many benefits of breathing consciously and deeply
-Stress stimulates our sympathetic nervous system and engages our body in the fight or flight response. Deep breathing engages the body’s parasympathetic response (think the opposite of being chased by a lion) and allows for relaxation of all our bodies systems
-It's an easy meditative process that puts you more in touch with your physical and emotional body
-Helps relax muscles and deepen stretches, bringing oxygen and nutrients to them
-Decreases acidity in the body, acidity is believed by many experts to lead to chronic inflammation which is the culprit in many diseases
- Diaphragmatic breathing moves lymph fluid which is directly responsible for eliminating metabolic waste and boosting your immune system
-Allows greater ease through difficult emotions, physical or mental pain. People often breathe shallowly to avoid feeling their feelings whether they be mental, emotional or physical
-Alleviate one of the causes of chronic neck tension. Shallow breathing uses accessory muscles in the neck , chest and shoulders which can cause chronic tension and pain.
- In Chinese medicine air is one component of vital energy in the body. Qi gong when combined with deep breathing is one of the ways a person with a weak constitution can build themselves up from a state of deficiency
“How do I know if I'm not breathing properly?”
Watch yourself in the mirror and see what happens.Most people when asked to take a deep breath take a very shallow breath that ends in their shoulders or chest high above the diaphragm. To test this place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a regular breath first and see where your hand moves. Try again with a deep breath. If your belly isn't moving, you're not deep breathing.
How to take a life enhancing deep breath
Place one hand on your belly below your belly button and the other above your belly button in the solar plexus area (where your ribs come together and make a triangle). Consciously take a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. You should experience this in five distinct ways.
While inhaling direct the breath with your mind into the belly, allow it to expand while doing so, if you’re lower hand is moving then you're doing it right
2. With the same inhale direct the breath into your diaphragm (solar plexus area), this area should rise up a bit as your belly finishes expanding and the breath moves past this area.
3. Continue the inhale into the chest allowing it to expand and rise
4. With your last little bit of capacity just barely pull up on the shoulders, hold and then release the breath out longer than it took to inhale
5. The exhale is important, let the breath go slowly and consciously allowing it to take longer to leave the body than it took to breathe it in.
At first this process will feel disjointed, like four or five separate steps. Eventually it should feel like one smooth movement, like a wave moving through your body. Even taking a few deep breaths can alter your body chemistry in a flash. The more you practice this the easier it becomes. You can get used to hearing the sound of your own breath and eventually won’t even notice it. Even if you don’t deep breathe all the time you will notice that you naturally take deep breaths when you really need it. Take care and happy breathing!