How often do you ask someone “How are you doing?”  But maybe we’d be better asking “How are you breathing?”  Many people have forgotten how to breathe deeply into their belly. However when you reawaken this practice you activate a powerful self-healing tool to create better health.

Have you ever stopped to consider how you breathe?  Have you ever watched and noticed how you breathe?  If you practice yoga the answer is likely a resounding ‘yes’ as breathing technique is a yogic fundamental.  Likewise, meditation and relaxation techniques require breath awareness and control.

But how often do you stop and consciously breathe deeply during your normal day?

Consciously controlling your breathing is one of the simplest and most effective ways to improve your health. When you breathe deeply you reduce the negative effect of cortisol on your body.  Constant stress is the forerunner of serious chronic disease. Efficient, effective and mindful breathing is a basic essential for good health.

Ninety percent of people breathe completely inefficiently. Their breathing is unconscious and purely reflexive. So it can easily become haphazard and irregular.

Becoming mindful of your breath give you the conscious control to command how you breathe, rather than allowing it to become automatic and inadequate. When you are not in control of your breath and you ignore it, a primitive part of your brain is triggered to step in and take over. Breathing becomes a simple unconscious, reflex action.

Ninety percent of people breathe completely inefficiently


Breathe Consciously

Stop right now and notice just how you breathe. Take a deep breath. Do you find it satisfying or a little difficult? Is it shallow? Is it fast? Do you sigh a lot? Or gasp? Do you hold your breath? Are you able to breathe deeply, down into your abdomen?

Try this experiment.  Time yourself and count how many breaths you take in one minute.  For most people it will be between sixteen and twenty which indicates they’re breathing poorly from the thoracic upper chest.  They are breathing relexively and their breathing is under the control of the primative part of the brain, and it’s inefficient. The air they breathe is only making it into the upper part of their lings.  Therefore they’re not getting the optimum amounts of oxygen their body requires to stay healthy.

You can easily recognise when people are thoracic breathing. The upper part of their chest rises with each breath and sometimes even the shoulders rise a little or slump forward.

As newborns we automatically breathed well. When babies breathe their abdomen rises with every in-breath and subsides as they exhale. But most of us lost this innate way of breathing as we got older. As children we copied those around us who generally breathed shallowly. When we get upset, sad or angry we can even hold our breath. By the time we are adults we’ve become disconnected from our breath, forgetting how to breathe deeply.

I was told to suck in my belly and stand tall when I was young.  But this destroys good breathing techniques and causes diaphragm muscles to tighten, which leads to restricted breathing.  As an adult I had to unlearn this practice and learn to ‘stand loose and let my belly hang out’ so I could use my abdominal muscles and breathe properly.


Breathe Deeply To Reduce Stress

Ongoing stress and anxiety creates a pattern of shallow, rapid breathing with consequently less oxygen reaching the brain. This leads to feeling light-headed or even dizzy, and also affects thinking processes causing the person to become unfocused.

When our thinking capacity is reduced we deal with anxiety or stress poorly.  We can have great difficulty moving out of a constant ‘fight or flight stress response’.  Shallow breathing can hold us in a continued state of high stress hormone production.  This is why taking slow deep breaths when we’re stressed is so helpful.  When you slow the breath down you also draw air more deeply into your lungs.

However, there’s no point in expecting your lungs to do all the work to breathe. Basically, they’re just empty sacs to hold air and aren’t capable of breathing on their own.


Diaphragmatic Breathing

Good breathing utilises other muscles in addition to those in the chest and upper back.  Across the front of your body below the ribs is a sheet of muscle called the diaphragm. It sits directly below the lungs and above the abdomen.  This acts like a pump for the lungs.  When you squeeze in your abdomen the diaphragm moves upward and pushes the air out of your lungs.  When the abdominal muscles relax the diaphragm moves back down, leaving space for the lungs to stretch out which draws air into the expanded lung space.

Healthy, beneficial breathing comes from the diaphragm.

If you put your hand on the bottom of your ribs and take a deep breath right now you’ll feel your hand rise and fall.  That’s because the diaphragm is doing its job, rising and falling to push air out of the lungs and let air flow back in.  When you breathe deeply you should also see your abdomen rise and fall.



Benefits Of Breathing Deeply

✦  Blood concentration is greater in the lower part of the lungs.  So drawing air into this area creates a higher exchange of oxygen out of the air and into your blood cells.

✦  Long, deep, slow rhythmic breaths into your abdomen below the umbilicus (belly button) pulls more air and oxygen down deep into the base of your lungs.

✦  Oxygen passes into your bloodstream more efficiently and effectively.

✦  Breathing deeply helps remove more toxins from the body.

✦  It helps to prevent disease and to manifest healing if disease is already present.

Rather than reflexively breathing rapidly slowing down your breathing to about eight or nine breaths a minute has a dynamic effect on your circulation and reduces the work of the heart.  It also gently massages the heart muscle and relaxes the muscles in the chest, ribs and stomach.


How To Properly Breathe Deeply

Shallow breathing is a developed habit, so like all habits must first be unlearned.

Once your breathing style is re-learned it must be practiced frequently until it becomes a normal part of life.  Starting slowly helps your muscles to develop.  Eventually, your body begins to obey your mind and you automatically breathe more efficiently.

Deep rhythmic breathing is simple but for it to become automatic takes some conscious practice.

It’s essential for almost all of us to re-learn how to breathe correctly

The easiest way to begin is to lie down and place one hand in the middle of your chest and the other on the bottom edge of your rib cage.  As you inhale the lower hand at the base of the ribs should rise, and as you exhale it should fall.  The upper hand should barely move at all.

With practice this deep diaphragmatic breathing will become a habitual part of your life.  Eventually, you’ll notice your breathing has become slower and deeper.

You don’t have to lie down to practice this and simply doing it through the day sets up the pattern.  Set the intent to do some deep breathing every hour, or whenever you do a certain action.  It can be as simple as standing up from your desk.  Choose any marker in your day to establish the practice.

I try to consciously breathe slowly and deeply when I’m driving.  It creates a new habit to maintain the practice.  Plus it helps keep down the inevitable stress levels caused by heavy traffic.  After a few months, you’ll find that you breathe deeply with ease.

You can practice when standing, sitting, or lying on your back with your arms by your side.

Breathe out quietly through your nose or mouth and then breathe in through your nose.

Minimise the pause between breaths to ensure the air is filtered and moistened.

Gradually lengthen the time of each breath.

Practising rhythmic deep breathing ten times a day for a few months will bring you deep rest and relaxation and reduce your stress.  You’ll become calmer and less nervous.  All the functions of your body will reflect the benefits.  You become healthier, happier and more energised.

Become aware of all the times you’re taking shallow breaths, holding your breath, raising your shoulders, or when your chest rises and falls.  These often indicate the onset of a state of stress.  Notice also when this breathing coincides with particular states of mind.  It may be an early warning that your fight or flight response has switched on, triggering a flood of stress hormones into your system.

Remember it’s essential for almost all of us to re-learn how to breathe.   Stop and breathe deeply as often as you can throughout your day to change this damaging habit.




 All information and opinions presented here are for information purposes only. They are not intended as a substitute for professional advice offered during a consultation with your health care provider. Do not use this article to diagnose a health condition. Speak to your doctor if you think your condition may be serious or before discontinuing any prescribed medication. Please consult with your health care provider before following any of the treatments suggested on this site, particularly if you have an ongoing health issue.