We do it around 20 000 times a day without even thinking about it, but did you know that most of us aren’t breathing properly?
We don’t take in the full 4 litres of air our lungs can hold, so we don’t get the optimum amount of oxygen that our bodies would like. For most of us, it’s caused by lifestyle factors like stress, weight gain and posture.
But, proper breathing can help you lose weight, sleep better and improve your sex life, so use these simple techniques to enhance your overall well-being. Now, sit back, relax, and take a big deep breath…
How should we actually be getting our O2? According to the experts, in order to use our full lung capacity, we should be breathing into our diaphragm. A great tip is to watch how babies breathe. Look at the way their stomachs move up and down as they breathe — that’s what we should be doing. Take a deep breath in and expand your stomach without letting your chest rise up. This will teach you to use your diaphragm and to breathe deeply.
How to breathe properly
- Lie flat on your back on a bed or couch.
- Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
- Take a deep breath in and push your belly (and your hand) upwards.
- Try and keep the movement of your chest to a minimum, so you concentrate on the deep breathing.
- The more you practice, the better you’ll get!
Read more: 7 symptoms you should never ignore
8 benefits to breathing properly
1. Deeper sleep
If you have trouble dropping off at night, you might be better off counting your breaths than sheep. A breathing exercise, pioneered by holistic guru Dr Andrew Weil and called the 4-7-8 (also known as Relaxing Breath), can apparently help you nod off quicker.
Just exhale through your mouth while making a whoosh sound, then inhale through your nose while counting to 4. Hold your breath for 7, and then exhale through your mouth for a count of 8, again making a whoosh sound. According to Dr Weil, the technique will relax the parasympathetic nervous system (the ‘rest and digest system’) and help calm you down, so you can sleep easier.
2. Better sex
An added bonus of breathing properly? Breathing through your nose can help heat things up in the bedroom by acting as a natural aphrodisiac! Nose breathing produces nitric oxide in the nasal cavity and helps to open up blood vessels, which increases blood flow to the peripheries and, in turn, improves your libido.
Not convinced? Try breathing through your nose next time your other half’s feeling amorous and see how things get flowing!
3. A faster metabolism
It may sound a bit too good to be true, but the more oxygen we take in, the more kilojoules we burn. Breathing in more oxygen can also help to reduce blood pressure, which helps to boost your metabolism. Yoga breathing exercises are a great way to increase oxygen flow and help you learn to breathe more effectively.
Try the ‘Skull Shining’ technique… Sit with your spine straight and take a deep breath in. As you exhale, pull in your stomach and navel back to your spine as comfortably as you can. As you relax, air will flow into your lungs automatically. Repeat this 20 times. But do remember that a Big Mac is not an appropriate reward for mastering this technique – breathing can help, but it can’t counteract a bad diet.
Read more: How to eat your way to a flatter tummy
4. Less stress
Have you ever found yourself holding your breath in a stressful situation? Well, you’re not alone. In fact, whenever we’re feeling anxious our bodies tend to constrict, our muscles tighten and our breathing becomes shallower. But here’s the thing: breathing better can help you feel calmer and equipped to deal with those tricky situations.
So how should we be breathing when we’re feeling stressed? Sit comfortably with your back straight and breathe in slowly through your nose and out through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can. And remember, we should be aiming to breathe into our stomachs, not our chests. Feeling calmer yet?
5. More energy
Better than a double espresso, getting your breathing in check can do wonders to boost your energy levels. Try this quick breathing exercise while you’re feeling that afternoon slump to help you feel perkier in no time.
Inhale slowly through your nose for a count of 2, and then exhale for 2. Inhale again for 2, but this time exhale for 3 – continue like this, increasing your exhalations by one count each time until you get to five. You might not be ready to run a marathon yet, but you’ll certainly be ready to face that email you’ve been putting off. Deep breathing helps to improve blood flow and regulate heart rate… so you can literally breathe your way to a healthier heart
6. Higher concentration levels
Learning a few breathing techniques can help us focus better in times of uncertainty. ‘Slow down your breathing to take more oxygen into your brain,’ advises Jacqueline Harvey. ‘This will allow you to see things more clearly.’
Studies show that alternate nostril breathing can help, too. Cover your right nostril with your thumb and inhale slowly through your left. Pause, then uncover your right nostril and cover your left one with your left thumb; exhale slowly. Alternate sides and repeat a few times. You might look silly, but it’s worth it to get in the zone.
7. A healthy heart
Studies have shown that just practising deep breathing for 45 minutes a week can help lower high blood pressure. This is because deep breathing helps to improve blood flow in the small blood vessels and regulate heart rate, slowing the heartbeat and helping to stabilise blood pressure.
There’s even an app that is recommended by doctors, called Breathing Zone; it has a built-in analyser that listens to your breath to develop a personalised program – you can literally breathe your way to a healthier heart.
8. Improved posture
Are you always slouching at your desk? Well, making sure that you’re breathing properly could help you learn to sit up straight and prevent back problems. ‘Deep breathers tend to sit straighter, slump less and stand upright, which reduces tension on your chest and neck muscles,’ says Tim Allardyce.
So, if you want to improve your posture, Tim suggests trying the piston breathing exercise. Sit or stand, making sure you’ve got good posture, and take a deep breath in through your nose. Try to concentrate on filling the lungs and letting the stomach move outwards. Forcibly push the air through your nose repeatedly, until your lungs are emptied of air. Repeat for 10 breaths, three times.