There’s a good chance you’ve been doing it all wrong
I realize the irony of this title. How you could you possibly make it this far if you didn’t already know how you breathe, right? Well, there’s a good chance you’re doing it all wrong, especially if you’re from the west.
Most westerners breathe from their chests, high in their lungs. While those in the east tend to breathe from the diaphragm, with its meditative roots. Our diaphragm muscle pulls down, allowing more (intercostal) space in your chest for your lungs to expand.
When we breathe high, we’re not using the full volume of our lungs, causing them to only do a portion of the job they’re designed to do (i.e. oxygenate your blood).
There are a few issues with this high-chest breathing:
- It’s shallow, putting less oxygen in our blood, requiring a more-rapid breath rate, even when sitting still, just to get enough air in our system.
- It makes anxiety worse. Rapid chest breathing makes us feel we aren’t getting enough air, which makes us breathe faster, which makes us feel we aren’t getting enough air — eventually, leading to hyperventilation.
- It can make you tired and moody. When you deprive your body of the oxygen it needs, the body responds by slowing things down to conserve energy — similar to the effects people get with sleep apnea.
- It’s not relaxing. Chest breathing is anxious breathing. If this is your natural, resting state, your body may feel more anxious as a direct relationship to your breathing pattern.
Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing:
- Slower breath rate, deeper oygenation
- Reduced anxiety
- More energy due to rich oxygenation
- Feels amazing — instantly. The feeling doesn’t disappear with repeated practice
- Slower resting heart rate
How to breathe correctly
- Sit comfortably.
- Close your mouth.
- Rest your hands on your stomach.
- Inhale through your nose and focus on your belly.
- Allow your belly to expand and make sure your chest stays almost motionless.
- Take calculated, slow, deep breaths.
If you do this correctly, and it’s hard to do it wrong, you’ll feel goosebumps or tingles throughout your body — all the way to your toes and fingertips. This is the rich oxygen coursing through your body. You got plenty of oxygen before, with chest breathing, but it was at a lower volume.
When you breathe diaphramatically, you get that rich oxygen boost all at once. It feels great and you don’t get sensitized to the feeling. The 10,000 belly breath feels just as good as the first. It’s like a tiny, natural high with no downside.
Bonus: Three Breath Meditation
Don’t have time to meditate? Think again. I leaned this three-breath technique years ago and it’s helped me through all kinds of stressful situations, helped me make clear decisions, and gave me a way to practice mindfulness without a long meditation session. You can practice this anywhere, even in the car.
- Find a place you can pause for 3–5 seconds. Stop lights are perfect for this.
- Glaze your eyes and focus on one thing in front of you.
- Take a deep breath from your belly. Pay attention only to the breath and nothing else. If you have a thought, acklowedge it by saying ‘hello thought’ in your mind, but try not to make any kind of judgement on the thought.
- Exhale. Keep your attention on the breath.
- Repeat the process for two more breaths.
That’s it. You just meditated. Actual, honest mediation. This method is totally portable, helps you train your body for diaphragmatic breathing, and you can practice this multiple times per day. I like to aim for 50. It doesn’t take any time from your life. You can even do it while walking.