Breath is a gateway to reducing stress and gaining perspective. In some cultures, the word "breathe" is synonymous with "spirit."
While breathing is the most natural thing you can do, most of us could be doing it better. Regular exercise helps — to a degree. Highly fit people are better breathers, but not necessarily optimal breathers, according to Michael Grant White, a breathing coach.
When we breathe, most of us do not make full use of the diaphragm, that large, dome-shaped wall of muscle and connective tissue separating the chest and abdominal cavities.
These tips will put you on the road to better breathing:
- Slow down your breathing. Count to two for the inhalation and count to four for the exhalation. This practice will deepen your breathing to prevent hyperventilation (fast loss of carbon dioxide) and improve oxygen absorption.
- Breathe through your nose when you are not exercising. According to Dennis Lewis, a breathing specialist and author of The Tao of Natural Breathing, it is harder to hyperventilate this way. Carbon dioxide is expelled less rapidly with nose breathing. It also filters and warms the air before it reaches the lungs.
- As much as possible during exercise, try to breathe through your nose. This is tricky at first, but you will improve at it.
- When working at your desk, try to get up and walk around for a minute or so as often as every 15 or 20 minutes. If you can throw in a couple of stretches for your upper body, that helps, too.
- Do relaxation work such as yoga and meditation to help you gain a better sense of relaxed breathing.
- When in a state of tension, focus on lowering your breath, watching the gentle expansion and contraction of the belly. This will calm you and restore your sense of balance.