Deep Breathing - Breathe in, Breathe Out
Whilst reading this article, why not take a deep breath before you start? Try not to raise your shoulders, instead inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth and allow your belly to rise and expand.
What is Breathing?
Breathing is the process of respiration, whereby oxygen is inhaled through your mouth or through your nose into your lungs. Then carbon dioxide is exhaled and released out of your body. This process keeps us alive and functioning. The more exercise you do the more oxygen you need. Your brain is constantly and subconsciously monitoring this process all the time.
What is my Breathing type?
Before we dive deep into how the breathing mechanism works, it’s a good idea to understand how you are breathing now. We will begin by observing our breath. Place one palm on your chest and one palm on your stomach and notice which palm moves up and down more.
If you palm on your chest is moving more than your palm on your stomach, you are chest breathing, otherwise known as thoracic breathing, breathing from your chest. But if your palm on your stomach is moving more than your palm on your chest, you are belly breathing also known as diaphragmatic breathing, breathing from your belly.
What is Chest Breathing?
If you find that you are chest breathing, in fact majority of adults in the UK breathe from their chest. Normally, adults have an average breath of 12 - 16 breaths per minute. However, with chest breathing, it can increase to 20 breaths per minute. It is a breathing pattern that has been formed from the subconscious mind, an
unhealthy habit developed due to external factors such as learned behaviour from parents, when we were young; we copied from the people who surround us. Also, this habit could form due to cultural expectations, what we see in the media, having a good beach body and a flat stomach. But also, external factors like the cold weather, if you’re stressed or if your body feels threatened by something or someone.
Chest breathing is shallow breathing which causes your autonomic nervous system to become out of sync. The autonomic nervous system controls the internal organs in our body, for example our brain, heart, lungs, stomach, and intestines. If you constantly breathe using your chest, it will create a lot of stress for your body. Your body will always try to compensate for the parts of your body that are overworking which may in the long term affect your health. Shallow breathing can worsen and cause serious breathing difficulties such as asthma or create panic attacks as your body is not able to regulate the anxiety that’s built up in our bodies. Your body doesn't get the nutrients it needs as it's lacking oxygen which makes your muscles tense up and create abnormal breath holding.
Of course, this bad habit can be reversed and relearned as long as the person is aware of how they are breathing, which we discovered at the start of this article. So, what is the right way to breathe? The answer is belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing.
What is Belly Breathing?
Belly breathing is also known as abdominal breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, the "proper" way to breathe. As babies, we learn to breathe organically but this organic way of breathing is lost from as young as 6 years old. Scientists still haven’t discovered the exact reason why this breathing pattern changes to chest breathing.
This natural type of breathing allows you to breathe deep into your stomach and be able to use your lungs to its full capacity, allowing the optimal amount of oxygen to go into your body. When belly breathing, your belly should expand, rise up and inflate like a balloon when you breathe in and deflate when you breathe out. The cause of your belly inflating and deflating is due to the diaphragm hence diaphragmatic breathing.
What is the diaphragm?
We need to understand this concept of
breathing in order to master how we breathe and this may be the first time you have heard of this word. The word diaphragm is pronounced dai-uh-fram, (ˈdaɪəfræm) the g is silent.
The diaphragm is a flat dome shaped muscle, a large mechanism that enables us to breathe in and breathe out. It is positioned in the bottom half of our ribcage. It’s anchored to our lower spine (lumbar vertebrae), our sternum, and costal cartilages.
How does the diaphragm work?
Every time you breathe in, the dome shaped muscle
contracts and the muscle flattens creating a suction which allows the air to go into your lungs. During this process, the diaphragm goes downwards causing the belly to expand and inflate as the diaphragm pushes the internal organs outwards. As well as the muscles in your ribs pulling upward causing your ribcage to expand three dimensionally, out towards the front, sides and back.
When you breathe out, the diaphragm muscle relaxes and releases the air out of your lungs. The diaphragm moves back up towards the heart and the ribcage goes back into its original position.
How can I engage my diaphragm when I speak or sing?
I hear so many singing teachers explain to their students “engage your diaphragm” when they are singing. However, the wording of this phrase creates a misconception that the diaphragm needs to be switched on every time you vocalise sound. The diaphragm is constantly working when you are subconsciously breathing, there is no need to “engage” the diaphragm. Also, the diaphragm is not a muscle we are able to touch with our hands like if we were to touch our calf muscle.
Instead, the students should be breathing deep into their pelvic floor enabling them to connect with their breath. Imagery is important for beginners when they are mastering the art of deep breathing as this could be the difference between good and bad breathing technique.
Who uses belly breathing the most?
Voice Coaches – If they have been trained as a voice coach, they should be using abdominal breathing all the time, no excuses.
Yoga Instructors – In their practice, they focus a lot on flexibility and deep breathing skills also known as Adham Pranayama.
Respiratory specialists – They specialise in this area, so it would be strange for them not to practise what they preach.
Diaphragmatic breathing benefits
There are so many benefits to belly breathing. Here are just a few of them:
Help relieve stress
Cope with your emotions
Help you gain more sleep
Declutters your mind
Gives you back your confidence
Make you feel happier
Helps you digest
Controls your body temperature
Normalises your blood pressure
Diaphragmatic breathing exercise
This exercise for deep breathing will strengthen the lower half of your respiratory system.
Lie on the floor for at least 30 minutes and allow yourself to be aware of which parts of your body touch the floor.
Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly and just observe your breath.
Breathe in through your nose. Every time you breath in, breath deeper and deeper into your pelvic floor.
Allow the belly to expand and deflate. You may not feel movement straight away and that’s okay. Try not to force your belly outwards if belly is not expanding.
Feel the back, the sides and the front of your ribcage expand as you breathe in as well.
Gently breathe out through your mouth, allowing the body to return to its original position.
Repeat this cycle a few times
Roll over onto your side, then into a crawling position and into a squat. From the squat, keep your head down, and hang with your body folded in half.
Allow your arms to hang, your hang to hang, releasing tension from your spine, your neck and shoulders.
Once you’re ready, allow yourself to roll up through your spine vertebra by vertebra.
If you feel dizzy, sit down and put your hand in front of you and look at your palm until your body has stabilised. Feeling dizzy means you are breathing in deeply. Your body is finally getting all the oxygen it needs. Most people shy away at this point, but this is only temporary as you are relearning the technique of how to breathe again. Once you master this technique on the floor, it is then knowing how to apply it when standing!
To change your breathing habits, book a discovery call with me today and I can help you discover the wonders of belly breathing. Breathing and speaking are inter-related, so check out all my services to see what suits you.