In studying for my personal training certification, I ran across an article that changed my entire definition and perspective on how to take deep breaths. I assumed that I knew how to inhale and exhale correctly, especially since I’d been practicing yoga more regularly. Boy was I mistaken!
I now understand what instructors mean when they ask you to breathe from your belly, fill up your torso, and feel the effects of breathing all the way into your back. You need to use the muscles in your diaphragm to fully fill your lungs with air—will actually push your stomach out. Then, exhale completely to relax and release the toxins from your system.
Dangers of Shallow Breathing
I also learned that we have become accustomed to taking lots of small, 'shallow’ breaths from our chest. This is not healthy and has many negative side effects, including: reduced oxygen intake, impaired cognitive function, fatigue, underdeveloped respiratory muscles, anxious/panic breathing, increased stress, and high blood pressure.
The good news is that it’s pretty simple to fix! The ‘training’ is calming, enjoyable, and can help you be more mindful and present. And because the diaphragm is a muscle, you can actually create muscle memory and teach your body to take fuller breaths.
Learning to Take Deep Breaths
I have been focusing on incorporating more ‘deep breathing’ into my daily routine, and finding some success with the following quick habits:
Taking deep breaths when I can’t fall asleep—completely filling up my lungs and exhaling slowly while my head is on the pillow.
Taking 5-10 deep breaths when I am stressed or feeling anxious—and yes, I need to count. Ironically, sometimes standing up or walking around helps me relax, focus, and slow down when breathing at home. When I’m really anxious, I honestly need to do something more active or drive somewhere for a change of scenery.
Developing a mindset that having a larger-than-I-would-like stomach when deep breathing is healthy and ideal. This took a mental shift and some getting used to.
Weekly visualizations and yoga sessions keep proper breathing top-of-mind and help me consistently practice and improve. Calming session before bedtime are my favorite.
Adding essential oils when I take deep breaths helps and reminds me to slow down. I have started keeping lavender on my nightstand and a brainstorming oil near my computer when I need to reset.
As I continue to practice breathing correctly (and buildmuscle memory), I look forward to improving my overall health and wellness, and feeling my best! And hope that you can find ways to take deep breaths and relax throughout the day too!