In the previous blog, you learned about how essential breathing is to life, despite it being regularly overlooked as a necessity for good health. In fact, you now are aware of the fact that conscious breathing is one of the most powerful keys to enhancing physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. As promised, you will now be exposed to specific tips and guidance on how to begin incorporating conscious breathing into your daily life!
How Do I Begin?
The first thing there is to do is to become present with how you currently are naturally breathing. It would be most beneficial for you to jot down some notes in relation to this for your own referencing! As you sit and read this, from where are you inhaling and exhaling your breaths? Your nose? Your mouth? Both? What do you notice is moving as you breathe? Your chest? Your stomach? Neither? Both? Pay attention to the sounds you make as you inhale and exhale. What do you hear? Where is it coming from? Do you not hear anything at all? Now, focus on your respiration speed. You can even time it with the second-hand of a clock or watch. How many breaths are you taking per minute? Also note the number seconds your inhale lasts, as well as your exhale. Finally, note what the rest of your body is doing, right now, as you are reading this. Are any muscles tensed? Anything clenched? How is your posture?
Ok. Now that you’ve taken a few notes on your breathing, let’s look at a few ways that it can be improved! No need to stress out about what you discover, we never really were given a lesson on “how to breathe” when we were children. You just started breathing the best way you knew how. The beauty of conscious breathing, is that anything can be corrected with consistent practice in a very short amount of time! Here’s a quick five-point checklist you can easily commit to memory to enhance your current breathing pattern that I like to remember as “The Five S’s”:
- STRUCTURE: Keep in mind that generally speaking, during normal breathing at rest, the nose is for breathing and the mouth is for eating. Inhalation and expiration should occur through the nose. There are only special circumstances where you may be trained to do otherwise (i.e. athletics, singing, swimming, etc.). However, in general, this is a good rule of thumb because when you inhale through the correct structure, it allows the air to be cleaned and warmed so that the lungs can receive it better.
- SPREAD: This refers to the depth of your breaths. As you inhale, you want the air you took in through your nostrils to spread past the nasal cavity, down your trachea, and into your lungs as your diaphragm contracts and flattens to allow the lungs more room to expand as they fill. Your rib muscles also lift up and outward to give the lungs more space. Hence the movement of the chest and the stomach-area (diaphragm) you should always see/feel during conscious breathing. Of course, when you exhale, everything happens in reverse.
- SOUND: I’m sure you know someone who snores during respiration while they’re asleep. You may also even know someone who snores during respiration when they’re awake! Inhalation and exhalation should be silent, and generally speaking, any sounds made during respiration (i.e. snoring, wheezing, crackling, etc.) could be indicative of obstruction of the respiratory tract, or another serious respiratory system/general wellness issue that should be assessed by your primary care physician.
- SPEED: The average person is breathing too quickly, and therefore too shallow. Proper respiration (i.e. the uptake and distribution of oxygen, wrapped up with the collection and release of carbon dioxide and waste) cannot occur optimally if this is done to fast! During normal respiration, at rest, you want to begin to get in the habit of inhaling for at least 2-3 seconds, and then exhaling for at least 3-4 seconds. I say “at least” because these intervals can be extended to effectively deal with moments of elevated stress, fear, anxiety, overwhelm, during meditation, etc.
- SEDATE: This is in reference to every other muscle and joint group in your body as your consciously breathing. Make sure nothing is tense, and everything is relaxed. Pay close attention to those areas of the body that tense subconsciously for you (i.e. allow your shoulders to relax and sink down, and allow your jaw to release and unclench). Finally, become very aware of your posture. Whether you are sitting or standing, you want to be sure to maintain good posture as much as possible. Shoulders rolled back, chest opened, back upright and straight, etc.
Remember, practice makes perfect! Begin by incorporating at least 5-10 minutes of conscious breathing everyday (perhaps every morning before hopping out of bed to start your day). This is actually one of my personal favorite forms of daily meditation!
Always remember: The way you breathe is the way you live!
Please be sure to stay tuned to the website for more wellness blog posts!
Katherine Igah-Phillips, MD, MHA
Returning to Nature, LLC.