Take a Breather

When was the last time you focused on your breath? It seems almost silly to have to think about breathing. It is something that occurs unconsciously, an involuntary reaction. At birth, it was the first muscular contraction we engaged out of the womb. The diaphragm pulled down and then pressed up and we have been repeating this action over a dozen times a minute since then. That ends up being roughly 8.5 million times a year (not taking exercise into consideration). By the age of 80, a person breathes over 672 million in their lifetime! One would think that something done with such regularity would mean that we would be experts at it. You might be surprised to know that very few of us actually breathe correctly, effectively or efficiently.

We breathe in three dimensions. Our ribs expand in many ways. They can expand forward, backward, and sideways. Our bellies should also expand when air comes in. In fact, if you observe infants breathing (the most likely ones to breathe correctly) you will see their bellies expand much more than their chest and ribs. Some time over the course of our teenage years or early adulthood we began to change the way we breathed, and it has had a detrimental effect on since.

Consider the oblong shape of your lungs as if they were a balloon. Which way would that balloon expand? It would inflate outward, but the main direction would be down. Most Americans stop breathing primarily into their bellies and breathe into their chest and up into the shoulders. This diminishes the amount of oxygen which draws in with each breath. It also places stress on the muscles surrounding the top of the shoulders and neck. It can cause mental fogginess, dizziness, numbness, anxiety, chest pain, digestive problems, irritable bowels and neck and shoulder pain.

Tonight when you lie in bed practice some deep breathing. Inhale and exhale through your nostrils. Allow your belly to fill as much as possible and then slowly exhale. Try and do this for 10-15 repetitions. By making this a conscious practice, you might begin to notice subtle changes in your everyday life.

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