At Beam, we have long since talked about how powerful our breath is and how important it is for us to breathe functionally. Both Tom and I have multiple qualifications in Breath and passionately apply it to our own lives as well as using it to coach and train others. But one of the most common responses when we first start discussing breath is along the line of:
"If I'm upright, then I must be breathing okay, right?"
Well unfortunately not! Breathing is so much more than the passive in /out function of breath, our breath impacts every single function of our body and is proven in countless clinical research studies to impact our mental and physical health. And yes, we can breathe incorrectly!
Whilst we are born breathing functionally, over the duration of our life we can pick up some bad habits and retrain ourselves to breathe in a dysfunctional way. Dysfunctional breathing happens for a variety of reasons such as:
Asthma or breathing problems
Smoking or vaping
Despite the fact that we are walking and talking, this does not mean we are breathing functionally.
What does dysfunctional breathing look like?
When we engage in dysfunctional breathing we are likely to:
Breathe from the upper cheat
Hold our breath when distracted or stressed
Frequently yawn or sigh
Gasp for breath
Breathe shallowly from the upper chest
Snore and / or experience obstructive sleep apnoea
Become quickly out of breath
When we regularly breathe in this way, we are likely to experience negative impacts on our physical and mental health. The growing studies in this area are staggering. Dysfunctional breathing has been proven to link with:
Pre menstrual anxiety
Poor sports performance
Lack of focus and mental clarity
How do I breathe functionally?
Now that we can recognise the signs and dangers of poor breathing, we can begin to focus upon creating more functional breathing patterns. Whilst you may need some help and support with this, here are three fundamental places you can start.
The key to any positive change is to first recognise that you need to make the change. Start to pay more attention to your breaths - we take around 24,000 per day and yet few of us pay attention to them.
Notice your regular breathing behaviours. Do you hold your breath when staring at a screen (known as screen apnoea)? Do you breathe through your mouth frequently? Do you rapid breathe when dealing with a challenging work issue?
By bringing your awareness to this, you can start to make changes.
Keep is Nasal!
When first learning about the breath, I was told "You should breathe through your mouth as often as you eat through your nose!". This really stuck with me, highlighting that the nose is the organ that was designed for breathing, our mouths are our emergency function to breathe and should only be used as such.
As often as you can throughout the day, bring your awareness to your breath and make it all through the nose (yes inhale and exhale!).
A great tool I teach clients is to create a frequent trigger for you to check in to your breath, this could be when you make a cup of tea or when you go the bathroom. However, the one I prefer to use if when I hear my phone or laptop beep with a notification. This happens so often, it enables us to regularly check into our breath. You can do it by creating a simple rule, such as "If I hear my phone beep, then I pause and take a slow deep breath before responding". As we are surrounded by beeps, this quickly becomes a habit.
Most of us over breathe which can lead to feelings of anxiety and tiredness as well as put strain on the respiratory system. The average person takes between 12-18 breaths per minute. When you are stressed, you are likely taking more. However, perfect resonance breathing is defined as 5.5 breaths per minute, which means all of us could benefit from slowing down our breathing from time to time.
Spend a few moment every day slowing your breathing down with a simple breathing exercise of breathing in for the count of 4 and out for the count of 6 (all nasal!).
Whilst these tools are incredibly simple, they are a powerful place to start if you would like to improve your breathing.