How You Breathe Matters

August 1, 2022

By: Dr. Mary Rose Strickland

Did you know that we breathe an average of 22,000 times per day?  When is the last time you thought about it?  Or considered HOW you breathe?  How you breathe is an indicator of your longevity and quality of life.  Poor breathing mechanics can put you at risk for disease such as cognitive and emotional health problems, pain, low energy, high blood pressure, digestive problems, and interrupted sleep.

Our breathing changes over time in response to a variety of things.  Pain, stress, trauma, physical activity, nutrition, sleep, emotional health, and quite honestly our fast-paced world and societal demands we all face.  When our breathing changes, it impacts how oxygen gets to our tissues and organs, our overall biochemistry, and our overall health.

Looking at how you breathe is a good start.  Sit down in a quiet place, ideally in front of a mirror.  Put a hand up on your chest and on your belly.  Take a nice deep breath in.  Did your hand on your chest rise upward towards the ceiling?  Or did your hand on your belly expand out in front of you?  Many of us are taught to stand tall and “suck it in”.  As a result, we tend NOT to breathe through our bellies, and instead utilize the muscles in our neck and upper rib cage instead.  Step one in improving your breathing is to learn how to become more comfortable with belly breathing.  As you breathe in, let that hand on your belly expand outward.  As you breathe out, that hand should return inward towards your body and feel even a light contraction of your abdominal muscles creating a little pressure as if you were blowing out a birthday candle.  Your hand on your chest should not move much if at all.

Next identify if you are breathing in through your nose, mouth, or both?  Unless you are engaged in high aerobic activity (running, etc) you should practice and become comfortable breathing in and out through your nose.  This can be especially important while you sleep.  Breathing through your nose while sleeping can improve your immune system as well as your respiratory system efficiency.  You may use paper tape to tape your lips closed at night to promote nasal breathing.  There are certain situations this is not appropriate for, and you’ll want to discuss with your New Life Physical Therapist or health care professional to see if this is appropriate for you.

Finally, you can consider the rate of your breathing and length of your inhale and exhale.  Slowing the first part of your exhale can help slow your breathing rate in general. Practicing minimizing your breath in can restore normal PH of our blood that allows oxygen to be best delivered that can calm our nervous system, tissue healing, pain, and emotional well-being.

Your overall posture and core activation is very closely related to breathing.  When you look at all of this, it is easy to see why understanding how you breathe, matters.