By re-training the muscles of your body and recovering the levels of oxygen your body requires, you’ll notice profound physiological and psychological changes.
Life can take our breath away slowly—we hunch forward to text, to drive, to work at the computer—or all at once, through anxiety or trauma. The end result is that we end up not properly utilizing one of our greatest tools for health: our breath.
If you’ve ever taken a moment to be aware of your breath, you’ve probably noticed that you’ve been holding it, or you’re only breathing shallow breaths, barely filling the space of your chest. You might notice that your inhale is more like a gasp, where your belly draws in as you inhale and releases as you exhale.
These faulty breathing patterns are just a few described by Dr. Belisa Vranich in her book Breathe. Vranich is a clinical psychologist who has focused her studies on how correct breathing affects overall health. She developed The Breathing Class as a way to help people remember how to breathe so that the balance of oxygen in their body is at an optimal level.
When we have dysfunctional breathing patterns, our cells don’t get enough oxygen. Oxygen is the stuff of life for your cells. Proper breathing also helps to regulate your nervous system. In fact, Dr Andrew Weil says, “If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breath correctly.”
Correct breathing uses a surprising number of muscles. The diaphragm is the central player, but there are many accessory muscles that also play a part, including muscles typically associated with core strength. Vranich suggests that by learning how to breath the way your body was designed to, you’ll actually be developing core strength. She writes, “The goal is straightforward: Relearn how to breathe by moving the breathing back down to the lower part of your body, where it belongs.”
The first step is to remember how to breath from your belly. By putting one hand between your collarbones and one hand on your belly, you can shift your breath between upper body breathing (breathing into your collarbone area), and lower body breathing (into your belly.) She offers many different tools in her book, but she suggests some basic moves to retrain your breathing patterns, starting with breathing through your mouth for all of them:
- Rock and Roll. Begin by sitting upright, without leaning against anything, either on the floor or in a chair. Inhaling, let your belly fall out to front and lean forward. Exhaling, round back and pull your belly in as you exhale all the air out of your body. Vranich suggest starting with 20 repetitions.
- Diaphragm Extensions. Lying on your back, put a stack of books on top of your belly button. Keep the stack of books in your peripheral vision, and watch them rise up as you inhale, and sink down as far as possible as you exhale. Continue for 50 repetitions.
- Cat and Cow. On your hands and knees, inhale as you release your belly toward the floor, lifting your tailbone and head toward the ceiling. Exhale lift your belly and round your back, dropping your head and tailbone toward the floor. Lift your belly button toward your spine as you exhale completely. Vranich suggests starting with 10 repetitions, with the goal to fully inhale and exhale along with the movement.
In an era of high tech medicine, simple treatments such as addressing how you breathe are often overlooked. By re-training the muscles of your body and recovering the levels of oxygen your body requires for optimal health, Vranich says you’ll notice profound physiological and psychological changes. The best part is, rather than trying to learn some new contortion for your body, “you used to breathe this way, and your body wants to breathe this way.” Perhaps one day you’ll hear the prescription, take two belly breaths and call me in the morning.