Updated: Aug 4, 2020
Research shows that changing the way we breathe can influence weight, athletic performance, allergies, asthma, snoring, mood, stress, focus and so much more.
Breathe. We do it roughly 25,000 times a day but until recently, few of us gave much thought to this automatic bodily function.
“If there’s some good to come out of COVID-19, it’s that people are paying more attention to how they’re breathing,” said James Nestor, author of Breath: The New Science Of A Lost Art, which explores how we breathe, how that has changed and how to do it properly. “You can’t be truly healthy unless you’re breathing correctly.”
How we breathe affects us at a cellular level. Research shows that changing the way we breathe can influence weight, athletic performance, allergies, asthma, snoring, mood, stress, focus and so much more. You can learn to breathe better, and these exercises can help.
Shut Your Mouth
About half of us are chronic mouth breathers, a practice that can irritate the lungs, increase the risk of respiratory infection and sap the body of moisture, and has been linked to bad breath, sleep apnoea and other health conditions. Breathing in and out of the nose filters, heats and treats the air.
It helps us takes fuller, deeper breaths. It also allows us to absorb more oxygen and raises the intake of nitric oxide, a molecule that opens the blood vessels, which increases circulation and allows oxygen, blood and nutrients to travel to every part of the body. Immune function, weight, mood and sexual function are all influenced by nitric oxide.
For the nearly 40 per cent of people who suffer from chronic nasal obstruction because of allergies, sinusitis, a deviated septum or any of the other many causes, shutting the mouth can be a challenge.
The first step is to clear congestion. “There are sprays and neti pots,” Nestor said. “I put eucalyptus oil under my nose.”
1. Congestion clearing: An exercise in The Oxygen Advantage, by Patrick McKeown, may help decongest the nose: Sit up straight, gently inhale and exhale through the nose, then pinch both nostrils shut.
Shake your head up and down or from side to side until you feel the need to breathe. Take a slow breath in through the nose, or through pursed lips if the nose is still congested. Breathe calmly for 30 seconds to a minute and repeat five more times.
TAKE SOME DEEP BREATHS
The average adult engages as little as 10 per cent of the diaphragm, the jellyfish-shaped muscle under the lungs primarily responsible for respiration. Shallow chest breathing can overburden the heart, strain the neck and shoulder muscles, and keep you in a constant state of low-grade stress.
Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing, can retrain you to breathe more deeply, allow the lungs to soak up more oxygen and reduce stress.
2. Belly breathing: Lie flat on your back with your knees bent. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly just below your rib cage. Breathe in slowly through the nose so your stomach expands against your hand. The hand on your chest should not move.
Slowly exhale through the nose or pursed lips, and feel the belly move down to its original position. Repeat for five to 10 minutes. As you get more comfortable with the technique, practise sitting or standing.
GRAB A BALL AND ROLL AWAY
When you breathe into the chest, muscles in the neck, shoulders, upper chest and back try to help out and can become tight. And when muscles of the upper body are chronically tight, they can restrict normal breathing.
Massaging the upper body with a tennis or massage ball can break this cycle and loosen, lengthen and relax the muscles. (Note: Avoid using a golf ball for these stretches. Its hard surface may cause more pain than good, particularly when it comes to the neck muscles.)
3. Pectoral roll: Stand facing a wall and place the ball under your collarbone at the sternum. Lean against the wall and slowly roll the ball back and forth, side to side, along the valley below your clavicle several times. Repeat on the other side of your chest.