I recently wrote an article on how to live a better life. In this article I said that breathing better will help you live better, this can be quite confusing… But there is a right way and a wrong way to breathe.
You’ve been breathing all your life, so you must be able to do it properly…right?
Just a warning from the start. This will feel strange and if you have any breathing difficulties or respiratory ailments do not try this. There is also a chance of going slightly dizzy the first time, so, do this in a comfortable and soft environment (on your bed or while lying on the floor).
Diaphragmatic breathing, as it’s called, is not an easy thing to begin you’ve built the habit of breathing for years, I’m still struggling with it now and I have been working on this since the start of this year.
This type of breathing is where your stomach moves and your shoulders stay still. Children are very good at this and as you age, as you develop muscular imbalances, you begin to breathe with your upper body and shoulders. As you breathe in, your diaphragm compresses down and out, and as you exhale it moves up towards the bottom of the lungs. Passive breathing in this state will involve moving your stomach and allow the air to flow, not necessarily sucking the air in consciously.
In a book I read “Drop Dead Healthy” by A.J Jacobs, he interviewed David Blaine. David Blaine has the world record for holding his breath. An incredible 17 minutes! Imagine being able to hold your breath for that long! Mr Blaine in this interview explained that to breathe deep you need to imagine the Oxygen you breathe in filling every single crevice of your upper body and to almost feel it fill you up entirely. This is what your focus should be when breathing deeply. Fully inhaling and exhaling on every breath.
There are several reasons why you may be breathing wrong, but the most common reason is simply sitting too much. We all know that sitting too much can cause you a whole host of issues, but breathing? Surely not?
As you sit, your hip flexors get shortened and tight, your abdominals begin to turn off. This will cause you to start using your upper body to breathe, your shoulders come up and your chest gets tight because of your breathing. This can cause all sorts of issues. Your breathing becomes shallow and your body, without deep breathing, becomes tense. Over time, you will not be using your deep core muscles.
Translate this into the gym, you can’t create adequate intra-abdominal pressure because your transverse abdominal isn’t firing when it should and this puts your spine at risk of injury when lifting heavy. This can also mean that your stomach may protrude slightly, so in the long run doing this breathing will actually decrease your waist size. That being said, this is all in a worst case scenario and the entire deactivation of your deep core muscles is difficult.
That being said, it can be helped.
Breathing deeply can help dramatically with a lot of things. Your stress levels will go down, you will feel more energetic, you may sleep better and your posture may even improve!
How To Start
Lay down on your back and place your hands on your stomach with the tips of your fingers touching each other. When you breathe in, focus on bringing your stomach up and pushing your hands apart. Then, as you breathe out, push your stomach back towards your spine and bring your hands back together. Take several, deep, slow breaths and even try box breathing in this position. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds and hold for 4 seconds. Think of your breathes and holds and sides to a box. All this breathing should be done through your nose. Breathing through your mouth has its place, but for now, keep it simple and through your nose.
Progress by sitting up against the back of a chair or a wall and really breathe deep. It will feel very strange but it will become a habit eventually. Then, just whenever you think of it, breathe into your stomach.
If you meditate, try this breathing method to further enforce the habit.
- Continue to strengthen the muscles around the core by standing up straight, exhaling and press your stomach back against your spine (that’s how it feels anyway). From there, move around through some movements like twisting at the waist, leaning forward and backwards. 10 rounds of this and you will feel on fire!
- Every day, as you are breathing in your new way, through your stomach. Do 100 stomach vacuums by really trying to force your stomach back. This can be done at any time while sitting down, while waiting in the shop for a checkout, or even while on the toilet.
- In the gym, while you are planking hold your core tight and try to breathe as deep as you can! This will be excruciatingly hard if done properly and you will only be able to hold this for about 10-15 seconds before your form breaks down. Really squeeze!
- Your bracing technique for heavy lifts can also be adapted for this. When you are setting up, breath into your stomach as much as you can, then exhale through your mouth like you will be ready to take a punch to the gut.
As you can see, strengthening your breathing and your deep core muscles translates to a lot of things. This shouldn’t in any way cause difficulty day to day and should be used to add to your life. Work on it slowly. Next time you feel stressed, take a deep breath in and fully exhale. You will be amazed at how much calmer you will feel even after 2 or 3 of these breaths.
The hardest I have found to implement this is when I’m exercising and breathing heavily. This is where I have found the David Blaine suggestion to work really well, as I feel my heart rate decrease very fast as soon as I start to breathe deeply and fully into my stomach.
Have a healthy week,