Have you ever noticed that people with great posture seem to be more alert? That’s because they are.
If you don’t believe it, just slouch down in your chair (if you aren’t already, that is.) Round your shoulders, curve your mid-back and jut your chin forward. Now, take a few slow, deep breaths – the kind that lift your chest and fill your belly.
That’s right. You can’t. In this slumped position, your rib cage can’t lift, your diaphragm can’t rise and your lungs can’t fully expand.
Reduced oxygenation is yet another booby prize of bad posture. Shallow breathing can affect your health dramatically. Lower blood oxygen levels and higher blood carbon dioxide levels mean more build-up of lactic acid in your muscles which leads to fatigue and soreness, not to mention a reduction in your overall sense of well-being.
A few symptoms of shallow breathing can include:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Lower energy levels
- Reduced overall performance and productivity
- Poor Digestion
- Pains in your hands and feet
- Increased muscular pain and tension
- High anxiety, even panic attacks
Deep Breathing: A Primer
The key to deep breathing is to “un-curl” so you can draw as much fresh air as possible in your lungs.
Try these simple steps:
1) Sit up straight, but make sure you’re comfortable. Take a moment to relax your shoulders, your neck and your face.
2) Place one hand on your abdomenand the other on your chest.
3) Breathe in deeply through your noseto fill your abdomen (as opposed to your upper chest.). As you breathe, you should see the hand on your abdomen rise, while the hand on your chest moves very little. (Ideally, your shoulders should stay still, while your abdomen rises.)
4) Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can. (Contract your abdominal muscles to push out all the air. You should see the hand on your abdomen move as you blow out the air.)
5) Take five breaths– in through your nose, fill your abdomen, then blow out through your mouth. Count slowly – but only on your exhale.
If you have a hard time breathing from your abdomen while sitting, try lying on the floor. (If you’re at work, be sure to lock the door first!) As in the sitting position, place one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest.
Once you’re body remembers how nice it is to get enough oxygen, try your deep breathing standing up.
Then take your new deep breathing for a road trip. First try it while walking. Then try it while climbing stairs and even as you exercise.
Proper breathing is also the cornerstone of all stretching techniques. The increased flow of oxygen to the muscles, decreases muscle fatigue and encourages the release of muscle tension.
Breathe Your Stress and Other Symptoms Away
Most of us spend our days breathing only with our chest cavity. The result of tighter chest muscles can be stored tension and increased susceptibility to stress. So it’s no surprise that breathing techniques are the cornerstone of most relaxation programs.
The more oxygen you get, the less tense, short of breath, and anxious you feel. So the next time you feel stressed, take five a minutes to slow down and breathe deeply.
Many specific relaxation techniques involve counting breaths and varying the depth of your oxygen intake. For some of us, counting is a stresser unto itself, but take heart. There’s no right or wrong breathing technique. Experiment until you find one – or a few -- that work for you.
One of the most respected of these breathing programs is The Alexander Technique, which can be used to decrease tension, relieve pain, and promote overall health. The primary goal of this technique is to restore the body to a natural state of relaxation through breathing.
Excellent resources are available for free on the Internet. The goals of various breathing techniques include:
- Promoting basic good health and well being
- Reducing stress
- Clearing your sinuses
- Focusing fuzzy thinking
- Controlling anger and other runaway emotions
- Slowing your heart rate
- Improving creativity
With a little willpower, practice and guidance, anyone can master the intricacies of these techniques. Then remember -- Take Five to breathe anytime you feel stressed, overwhelmed, or simply when you feel your muscles tightening up.