Take a deep breath? Feel better? There’s a reason for it. Most people do not use the full capacity of their lungs when they breathe. Hunched over desks for 8+ hours a day plus commute plus being lazy on the couch leads to breathing patterns that can have a very negative effect on the mind. We breathe too shallowly.
Fortunately, this is easy to reverse. Deep abdominal breathing can uplift your mood and give you more energy throughout the day. Why is this? Let’s take a look at how oxygen works in our bodies.
Why We Need to Breathe
We all learn very early in our life that we need air to breathe. Later in school, we learn that oxygen is the important element in air that keeps us alive. Oxygen, quite literally, allows us to burn certain compounds in our body that give us energy and warmth.
We take in oxygen through our lungs. It passes through our lungs and is carried by red blood cells throughout the body. In our cells, the oxygen is used by mitochondria to burn the compounds we use for fuel. The red blood cells then carry the carbon dioxide waste back to the lungs where we exhale it.
So it’s quite simple. Too little oxygen means too little energy is getting generated. In extreme cases, it can even lead to a buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood. This makes us feel tired, lethargic, and fuzzy in the brain.
Too much oxygen can also be a problem. If you’ve ever hyperventilated, you know how it can make you feel. But we usually have to work quite deliberately or have some sort of shock happen to us to breathe in too much oxygen.
How We Breathe
There are two sets of muscles that we can use to breathe. Shallow breathers use the muscles between the ribs (the intercostals) to move the ribcage. It can look from the outside like the shoulders are raising up and the ribs are expanding to breathe. You’ve probably experienced this type of breathing when you’ve been scared or anxious. Indeed, habitual breathing in this manner can lead to an increase of these feelings in daily life.
The other muscle is a huge one underneath the ribcage called the diaphragm. When we do deep abdominal breathing, this muscle expands and contracts to let us take deeper breaths. Singers and public speakers learn to train this muscle to push lots of air out to project sound. We can also use it to improve our health by taking deeper breaths.
Learning to Breathe Deeply
The process is quite simple. Sit up straight, then put one hand on your abdomen and the other on your sternum. Do you feel the hand on your abdomen moving up and down when you breathe? If not, change your breathing so that it does. Your upper hand can move a little, but it should do so after the lower hand has finished moving or has nearly done so.
Take some time to do 25 deep abdominal breaths this way and see how you feel afterward. You should feel much more awake and alert. Once you know what such a breath feels like, it’s just a matter of training yourself throughout the day to use a deeper breath rather than a shallow one. Every hour or so, do another 25 deep breaths with your hands on your body like before until you get the feel of it. Then you can drop the hands and go back to your activities. Try to keep the deep breathing going between times.
With enough practice, breathing deep will feel more natural than breathing shallowly will, and you’ll feel much better for it.
You hold the power to transform your life!