Stop & Breathe
“If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.”
-Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D. (One of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, 2005)
Each and every one of us breathes in and out approximately 17,000 times per day, yet the average person uses only 20% of their lung capacity.
Poor breathing has been linked to anxiety, stress disorders, depression, heart disease and even cancer. On the other hand, breathing properly has numerous benefits. Doctors, athletes, musicians, public speakers, actors and yogis are just some of the people who know how valuable breath can be.
Learning to breathe helped me lose 80lbs and become a healthier person. It helped me to mend strained relationships and build an incredibly strong marriage with my wife. And, believe it or not, proper breathing has also helped my career.
Let me show you how to harness the power of breath.
We don’t breathe properly.
Watch a baby and you’ll notice their belly rise and fall with every breath. They are using their diaphragm to breathe – the large muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdomen.
As we age, this natural breathing process is interrupted by our vanity and lifestyles. Society tells us that a big belly isn’t attractive, so we suck in our gut and puff out our chest in an effort to look slim. We then spend hours on end sitting hunched over our desks, steering wheels and televisions. This poor posture restricts the movement of our diaphragm and prevents us from taking full breaths. Finally, we become slaves to our schedule, racing around to meet time demands while taking less and less time to exercise and relax.
All of these factors have conditioned us to become ineffective, shallow chest breathers.
Learn to breathe again.
Learning to breathe properly is easy and will reward you with immediate results. Simply follow these 7 easy steps…
- Stand or sit comfortably with a straight spine.
- Relax your shoulders and place your hands on your lap or at your side.
- Exhale completely, drawing the diaphragm in and up.
- Slowly inhale through your nose by contracting your diaphragm out and down. Your belly should rise, followed by your mid-chest and finally your upper-chest as air fills your lungs.
- Slowly exhale through your nose while drawing your diaphragm in and up.
- Repeat this process three times, taking consecutively fuller breaths with each inhale.
Congratulations, you’ve just taken three deep breaths! Many people have not taken the time to breathe this deeply since childhood.
How do you feel? By breathing properly you’ve just lowered your heart rate, relieved stress and delivered much needed oxygen to every organ in your body to name just a few of the benefits. And all in less than a minute!
The benefits of proper breathing.
The greatest benefits of proper breathing are to your health. Full, deep breaths are the fastest way to trigger the relaxation response and relieve anxiety. Proper breathing increases blood flow and delivers oxygen to every organ in your body, helping reduce factors for heart disease, cancer and depression. It helps you to sleep soundly, increases vitality and even improves sexual performance all while aiding the lymphatic system in the elimination of waste and toxins from every cell in your body. And as a bonus, deep breathing helps you lose weight by encouraging fat burning as a fuel source.
On my journey to improve my health, I lost 80lbs, completed multiple Ironman triathlons, overcame addictions and became an overall healthier and happier person. I have no doubt that proper breathing was a major contributing factor to those accomplishments.
Relationships can also be improved by proper breathing. Relationships are stressful at times, whether they be with your spouse, friends, family members or colleagues. Without realizing it we can become impatient, frustrated and quick to react during stressful situations. Full, deep breaths can help us to remain present and in the moment, encouraging us to respond rather than react. And when we do find ourselves reacting poorly, simply stopping and taking three deep breaths can quickly calm you and encourage clearer thinking.
My wife and I have an incredibly strong relationship, however we both lead busy and oftentimes stressful lives that test our marriage. Taking the time to stop and breathe has helped us respond to many stressful situations in healthy, constructive ways that bring us closer together.
Perhaps some of the most surprising benefits of proper breathing are to your career. Most of us spend hours a day seated at our desks, hunched over our computers and restricting our breathing. This results in low energy and ineffective work practices. Simply taking three deep breaths will immediately make you more alert, improve your focus and allow you to think more clearly.
Working as a producer of multi-million dollar special events, I am regularly faced with high stress and time sensitive challenges. By taking the time to stop and breathe I can relax, clear my head and regain focus, which improves my decision making skills and allows me to work quickly and effectively. As a result, clients know that I’m reliable and will do an exceptional job, and that ultimately translates into more repeat business.
More tips for harnessing the power of your breath.
- Breathing properly with the technique outlined above is quite simple, however you need to practice. Set reminders to stop and breathe throughout the day and before long it will become habit.Try simple reminders such as every time you stop at a red light while driving, before you pick up the phone to make a call, or every time you open a door. I have even set reminders as foolproof as scheduling an hourly notice on my computer or posting notes on my fridge and bathroom mirror.
- Whenever possible, breathe through your nose and not your mouth. As air travels through your nose it is filtered, warmed and moisturized in preparation for entry into the lungs, which contributes further to the benefits of taking full, deep breaths.
- Experiment with breath counts. As you calm your breath and learn to breathe more effectively, you may try lengthening your inhales and exhales for a count of 4, 5, 6 or more. You can also begin extending your exhales longer than your inhales, which has a very calming effect and induces bradycardia, or slowing of the heart.
- There is a great deal of science and cultural history behind the manipulation of breath. You can discover more about the power of your breath by exploring meditation and attending pranayama workshops at your local yoga studio.
Read More: Meditation 101:A Beginner’s Guide
- Exercise! Whether you are competing in an elite level sport or simply taking an after-dinner stroll, exercise in any form encourages proper breathing.