We all do it, but are you really doing it? Properly, I mean. It’s certainly something we take for granted until we, well, can’t.
I’ve been thinking about breathing a lot lately. My dad is currently recovering in hospital on a respiratory ward, and when you go there and see patients with tubes and bleeping machinery surrounding them, just so they can get some air, you suddenly start to appreciate the wonder that is the human body, breathing (if you’re lucky), all by itself.
I was in a yoga class last week when I had a ‘eureka!’ moment: I realised I was finally breathing into the asanas and totally focusing on my breath. As a beginner, you’re usually concentrating so hard on bloody balancing without falling a over or correctly contorting your limbs like a pretzel, that iiiiinhaling or exxxxxhaling is the last thing on your mind tbf.
But slowly (very slowly) and surely, my core has become ever so slightly stronger, my spine straighter and godammit, I feel like I’m breathing right into the recesses of my SOUL *insert ALL the prayer hands emojis here*
Btw, this hasn’t always been the case for me, not by a long-shot:
- It was 2013 and I was late for work (again), running up the ridiculously steep escalator at Oxford Circus, ready to spit me out at ground level. It wasn’t until I got to the top that I realised I’d been holding my breath for the whole ascension. And probably since I got off the train, tbh.
- Then there was the time I was sitting at my desk (same shit, different job lol), with approx 9480593485 things to do/emails to read and not enough time for everything, jabbing away furiously at my keyboard and feeling pretty blaaady stressed when suddenly I’d realise I’d been holding my breath. I lift up my head and gulp down a mouthful of air. Btw, this is an actual ‘thing’: email apnea, it’s called.
A year or two ago I eventually decided to do something about my stress, anxiety and generally crappy posture/flexibility and found myself at my very first yoga class. Me! The gal that used to visibly eye-roll at the mere mention of downward dog and assumed anyone who practised yoga smelt of hemp and had dreadlocks (I know, I know – don’t).
At that first class, the teacher gently told us to take a long, deep inhalation… I did some sort of pathetic two-second shallow sip – and I was done. I could hear everyone else still breathing in, deeply and s-l-o-w-l-y, sounding a little bit like Darth Vader, as the though the breath was coming from somewhere very deep within.
That’s when I realised that, despite the fact I’d been breathing all my life , despite the fact I do it around 20,000 time a day, I’ve actually been doing it all wrong.
I started to learn that your inhalation should come from your belly, making it expand, but I noticed that when I took a breath in, my abdomen would actually suck in. I’d then feel the air get ‘stuck’ at the top of my too-tight chest.
I wondered whether the fact I couldn’t get a lungful of fresh, clean air into my system was making me ill.
In a word? Yup: bad breathing basically starves your body of oxygen, creating a whole host of sexy lil’ health problems, because your brain – and other vital organs – ain’t being replenished with essential nutrients.
Constantly stressed and being in ‘fight-or-flight’ mode meant I was taking short, shallow breaths in a sort of ‘stand-by’ mode against a perceived threat (even if that was a copy deadline or train delay rather than a sabre-tooth tiger). This results in only using the top part of your lungs AKA constantly hyperventilating AKA one fucked-up nervous system.
As well as modern day stresses, I think there is a growing tendency for people to practice ‘vanity’ posturing: sucking in the food-baby belly, sticking out the chest and arse, Kim Kardashian style (especially for those #OOTD opps, amIright?). Curving the spine like that is actually about as far away from the natural breathing posture as you can get, resulting in a restricted oxygen intake, meh.
Basically, if you look at a cute lil’ baby snoozing, you’ll see their bubba-belly clearly rise and fall with each breath. THAT’S how we should all be breathing, using our diaphragms, not our chests. This little revelation was actually mind-blowing for me, as I was definitely doing it all wrong; a bona fide chest breather, right here *waves*
This is also important (and *another* thing I was doing incorrectly thanks to stuffy sinuses, go me!): Your breath should go in and out of your nose, not your mouth. IKR. If your nose feels too bunged up to do that, it’s probs because you’ve been breathing through your mouth for sooo long that the airways have shut up shop. Once you start breathing through your nose again, they’ll soon start to clear.
Since beginning to breathe better, I’ve noticed lots of improvements like: fewer tension headaches, more open shoulders, better posture, fewer colds, clearer skin and most importantly of all: a calmer mind.