Women in a yoga class practicing breathing technique

You’re Probably Breathing Wrong

Breathing is the most fundamental functions of the human body (and non-human bodies too). We've been doing it thousands of times a day, every day, non-stop, since birth. What if I told you that you've been breathing wrong for most of your life? It kind of makes sense, right? You have to figure out how to do it the moment you are born, and then you keep doing it like that for the rest of your life. You're 10 minutes old and that's the end of Breathing 101. Newborns haven't mastered any skills at all, so why would they be good at this?

Well, April Fools', because that's where you'd be wrong. Babies actually have excellent breathing mechanics, generally speaking. For those of you with infants, lay them on their back and watch their abdomen while they breath. If you don't have a baby handy, check out this video instead. Do you notice how their belly inflates like a balloon, not their chest? Now take a look at an adult breathing; does it look the same? Probably not. At some point in our development, we started to breath with more shallow breaths, possibly from chronic poor posture. It's pretty hard to deep breaths when sitting slumped at your desk.

Man sitting slumped at desk using computer
It's pretty hard to take deep breaths while slouching


How Should I Be Breathing?

I'm so glad you asked. First, we need to take a look at the anatomy and understand one of our organs: the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a flat muscle that separates our lungs from our abdomen. When we contract our abdomen our lungs inflate with air. We need to focus on using this muscle properly for good breathing habits.

For those of you who have had any kind of choir or singing training may have practiced some diaphragmatic breathing and control already. Another group that comes to mind is yogis. Yoga often focuses on controlling the depth and rate of your breath, and those who enjoy yoga may have practiced this technique as well. For the rest of you, let me give you a lesson.

Diagram of a human diaphragm muscle, the muscle used for breathing

Proper breathing technique involves expanding your abdomen and pushing your belly out, taking deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. If your chest and shoulders are rising and falling with each inhale, you're breathing wrong. Don't worry, this is extremely common if you've never practiced this before. A good way to practice this technique is to stand  in front of a full-length mirror, with one side of your body facing the mirror. Place your hands on your abdomen and think about physically pushing your hands out with your belly as you breathe in with your nose. This forces you to use your diaphragm. It's common to get movement in both the chest and abdomen at first, but with some practice you should be able to isolate belly movement only. Check out the video below for some tips on how to perform this technique and learn about Brugger's Posture for relieving chronic neck pain and back pain.