“When you’re feeling frazzled, put all of your attention on the breath. It’s a portal into the present moment, the best remedy for stress.” ~ Author Unknown
Understanding Your Breath
When we’re born, we are belly breathers.
As we age, the stressors and demands of life begin to kick in, and we move our breathing patterns from our belly up into our chest.
This is, essentially, due to the need for a different kind of oxygen to meet the demands we’re facing - or imagining.
Your brain needs four things to function properly:
Out of these four things, oxygen comprises at least 70%. It’s very clear how important oxygen is to our brain’s ability to function well.
When you breathe through your chest, it doesn’t capture nearly as much oxygen as breathing through your belly or diaphragm (though, it may be more efficient in times where quick oxygen is needed).
This often leaves us feeling fatigued (both mentally and physically), more reactive to stressors, and low on energy.
Being Mindful of Your Breath
An important step in becoming a belly breather rather than a chest breather is to simply become mindful of your breath.
Notice throughout the day how you are breathing when you feel stressed, anxious, or worried. Commonly, you will find that you are breathing short, shallow chest breaths rather than long, relaxing diaphragm breaths.
Just through mindfulness alone, you can begin to develop a habit of diaphragm breathing throughout the day.
This can provide an excellent boost to mood, attention span, focus, productivity, and energy levels.
How to Perform Diaphragm Breathing
Diaphragm breathing can be performed in a few simple steps:
- Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
- As you inhale, feel your stomach expand out like a balloon.
- As you exhale, feel your stomach contract back towards your spine.
The process of learning this skill may be difficult at first.
We’ve trained ourselves over many years to meet the stressful demands of the day with short chest breaths. Naturally, due to this, changing how we breathe can be a small challenge.
Length of Inhale & Exhale
As far as how long you should inhale and how long you should exhale, try different times and find what’s comfortable for you.
Generally speaking, if you’d like to feel more relaxed, you can extend your exhale. If you’d like to feel a boost of energy, you can extend your inhale.
The bottom third of the lungs transport the most oxygen, in the most efficient way, to the brain.
When we simply breathe through the chest, we miss out on all of that potential oxygen that could be used for greater mental performance throughout the day.
Begin a mindfulness practice around your breathing habits and go back to breathing like a baby!