We all take around 20,000 breaths a day, but are we doing it right? There is a right way to breathe, and when we become aware of it, we can reduce stress levels, boost our immunity and completely overhaul our workouts.
Considering how crucial it is to our survival, we spend very little time thinking about the way we breathe. In fact, most of us generally only think about our breath when we’re short of it. But it’s a subject that could do with a little more focus, because if we breathe the way our bodies were designed to, we can unlock real and lasting benefits for our workouts and our health.
‘Breathing correctly supplies our bodies with the right amount of oxygen, providing our brain and vital organs with the essential nutrients they need,’ says Claire Morris, a yoga expert. ‘Deep breathing is an amazing tool for generating energy.’
We’re all born with the ability to achieve optimal breathing, but most of us grow out of it and tend to take shallow little sips of air as the stresses of adulthood creep in. Breathing deeply – from the abdomen rather than the chest – is important because it accesses the part of your lungs that’s richest in oxygen. It also means we get the right mixture of oxygen and CO2 our bodies need to function properly.
Besides being a proven stress reliever and helping us to stay calm, deep breathing has been associated with better sleep, increased cardiovascular capacity and improved digestion and fat burning.
So what should we be aiming for? Think smooth and deep inhalations: the ideal resting breath is a slow and rhythmic cycle that reaches your abdomen. ‘As you inhale, think about your breath dropping slowly down through your body until it reaches the floor of your abdomen. Put your hand on your stomach to feel the air rising there as you breathe in,’ advises Claire. ‘See if you can slow your breathing down to 10 cycles per minute while resting comfortably.’
With cardio or high-intensity workouts, you know you’re in the right zone if you’re panting or open-mouth breathing during the exertion phase, but aim to get control of your breath again in recovery mode.
In strength training you can activate your abs and core muscles substantially by timing your exhale with the exertion.
ARE YOU BREATHING RIGHT?
Does this affect you? Here are five signs you’re not getting the air you need.
You inhale with your chest. Put one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. Breathe in deeply. Only the hand on your stomach should be moving up and down. If the hand on your chest moves, you’re shallow breathing.
You carry lots of tension in your upper body. Do your neck and shoulders always feel tight? That’s another big indicator of stressed and shallow breathing.
How’s your posture? Poor breathing can lead to shorter muscles around your chest and the front of your shoulders, causing you to slouch forwards.
Are you breathing through your mouth? Unless you’re exercising, or have a cold or sinus congestion, your mouth should be closed. Sighing or yawning frequently is another sign that your body isn’t getting enough oxygen.
You’re going too fast. Check your resting breath rate. A normal, relaxed breath rate for an adult is 12-18 breaths per minute.