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  • Writer's pictureKaren

Are you breathing properly?

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

Last week, a lovely Scottish man who had practiced Yoga for the first time at one of my morning classes thanked me for showing him how to breathe. Sounds strange, I know, but the truth is, a lot of people don't actually breathe "properly".

To explain it, imagine that everything in nature has a rhythm. The ocean has a rhythm, the moon, the sun, the seasons. And our body is no different. Our heart, brain and nervous system all follow a natural rhythm. And so does our breath. This natural rhythm of breath is essential not only for our physical well-being, but our mental well-being too.

In today’s world however, the rhythm in which most people breathe is not great. Not through any fault of their own. It's just that we pick up bad habits sometimes and without even realising it, those habits become our 'norm'. Some examples of bad breathing habits include, breathing through our mouth instead of our nose, shallow breathing, and stressed, or over-breathing.

When we are born we all know exactly how to breathe naturally - in a relaxed and deep manner that benefits our bodies. It is only over time, as we grow from babies into children and then adults, that we develop bad breathing habits. Factors like our environment, lack of exercise, poor posture, our emotional health, our physical health and overall lifestyle choices can greatly affect our breathing.

Our nose, for example, is designed by nature to filter and warm the air that we inhale into our body. If we are breathing through our mouth, which is a habit that some people develop over time, then the lungs are receiving a lot of unfiltered and cold air, hence drying out our respiratory passageways and forcing our bodies to work harder in order to distribute the oxygen we need to thrive both physically and mentally.

Another bad habit is shallow breathing. Shallow breathing is caused by any number of factors like poor posture, slouching, allergies, a sedentary lifestyle, bad diet, or smoking. The air that we breathe through our nose should go all the way down to our belly, allowing the diaphragm to engage and the lungs to fill up with air so our breathing becomes deep and regular. (Try it) This correct movement of our internal breathing system distributes oxygen into the cells of our body.

However, if our breathing is shallow, (when the air is not going all the way down to our belly, but only to our chest - which is how a lot of people breathe), then we are not only weakening our own breathing muscles like the diaphragm and lungs, we are also reducing the amount of oxygen reaching our cells - meaning the cells in our body are merely surviving as opposed to being energised.

And that's not great for our health.

Now imagine that our breathing reflects our feelings, our thoughts and our physical body. For example, situations that make us feel stiff or stressed will lead to short stressed breathing (or over-breathing). And most of the time we might not even realise it. But this stiff, short breathing can result in the brain, mind, heart and muscles becoming stressed.

You seeing the vicious circular pattern here? If our mind or body are stressed, our breathing is stressed, and vice versa. But if our breathing is calm, then our body is relaxed. This is why we focus on natural breathing (as opposed to over-breathing or shallow breathing) when we practice Yoga. Deep, relaxed, rhythmic breathing increases the levels of oxygen reaching our cells and helps to relax all the muscles, ligaments and tendons that we are stretching, as well as calming the mind, brain and heart.

This combination of moving the breath with the body and mind is what releases tension and brings that beautiful calmness that we feel at the end of a Yoga class.

The ultimate goal of course, it that by learning to breathe in this calming way while we are doing Yoga, a little bit of magic happens, and we find ourselves bringing those deeper belly breaths into everyday life too, thereby improving our overall health and mental well-being ... just by learning to breathe properly.


Have yourself a great day :)

Want to learn how to do Yoga breathing? Here's a great video that shows you how.

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