Take a deep breath.
Did your chest and shoulders rise or lift? Did your belly stick out? You may need to take another breath to check again. If you’ve noticed that your chest rises as you breathe, you’re actually breathing the wrong way!
Chest breathing is very inefficient for a number of reasons:
- You’re using extra muscles: Breathing with your chest uses neck and chest muscles that aren’t actually meant to be used for breathing for long periods. Known as accessory muscles, they’re only meant to help with breathing in stressful situations (such as during a hard workout). Over an extended period of use, these muscles can get tight and tense, and lead to problems like neck, shoulder, and upper back pain.
- You’re not using your full lung capacity: It may seem backwards, but breathing with your chest is less efficient for your lungs. They can’t expand as much as they should, and this results in less oxygen for your body’s tissues and organs. And we all know how important breathing is for life!
When we breathe correctly, we’re using our diaphragm to do all the work for us. This umbrella-shaped muscle that sits just below our lungs contracts and relaxes, allowing for our lungs to fill with air with very little muscle work. If you’ve ever watched a baby breathe, you’ll see them instinctively doing just that. But as we get older, we become more aware of how our stomach sticks out when we breathe, and this causes us to change our habits.
Returning to belly breathing can be tough at first, and you may feel dizzy or lightheaded when you first try it, so start slowly. It will get easier! Follow these steps below and give it a try:
- Lie down on your back in a comfortable position and place one hand on your stomach.
- Inhale for 3 seconds by pushing your stomach up into your hand, watching it rise.
- Pause briefly at the end of the inhale.
- Exhale for 3 seconds and allow your stomach to relax back toward the floor.
- Repeat 3-5 times.
The easiest time to try this is first thing in the morning or before bed, as your body is more naturally relaxed.
If you need help learning how to belly breathe, or notice how your neck and back have been sore from chest breathing, give our office a call! We’re always happy to help.