It’s something we all do, day in day out, from the moment we’re born. But it turns out we might not be smashing the act of breathing as well as we think. The rise of ‘breathwork’ and the difference it can make has revealed benefits to relearning how to breathe properly, especially with the bad habits we’ve picked up during lockdown. By Sadia Nowshin.
Take a deep breath… No, not like that.
Sadly, if you’re reading this then you’re well past the prime age to become a pro at taking the perfect breath. From birth to about three years old is when we breathe best – babies automatically take the perfect belly breath, as opposed to the upper chest breath we tend to take as we get older.
Quite depressingly, experts suggest that it’s when we start school that our natural knack for breathing deflates. Sitting in one place for long periods of time and the increase in stressors mean we pick up the bad breathing habits that stick around for the rest of our lives.
What are the benefits of ‘proper’ breathing?
Okay, so the way you’re breathing now does the job well enough given that… well, given that you’re still alive. But there are benefits to learning how to breathe the way the experts do – the experts here being newborn babies and yoga pros.
There isn’t a lot of research into different kinds of breathing, but the NHS recommends taking a diaphragmatic breath as a way to relieve stress and anxiety. Diaphragmatic breathing uses the large muscle between the chest and abdomen to take bigger, deeper lungfuls of air, rather than the shallow ones we normally take.
Breathing deeply tells your body that you’re safe, combatting the natural panicky feeling you get when you’re overwhelmed or stressed out.
If you start to notice your own breathing is becoming ever-more shallow, improving your breaths also gives you the opportunity to improve your posture. Sitting up straight opens up your airways and allows for deeper breaths, and getting up now and again for a break gets your body moving in the otherwise static day.
Taking your own breath away
Working from the confines of home hasn’t helped our breathing. When sitting at a laptop for long periods of the day in often less-than-ideal spaces, naturally we start to hunch over and compress our airways. Next time you sit at a laptop, take a moment to notice your own breathing: it’s very likely that you realise that you tend to hold your breath when you’re typing or concentrating, throwing your whole breathing cycle out of sync.
As the working day seems to lose any structure, workers are less likely to take regular breaks. So, we’re sitting at a desk for extended periods of time and taking “micro-breath-holds” the whole day, which isn’t helping the increased work-related-stress that might come with working from home.
Spending more times indoors also means we should start paying attention to the air quality of our bubbles. For an easy way to make your immediate airspace cleaner and purer with the added bonus of making your space look great, get yourself a plant.
Part of the appeal of writing this guide was being able to talk about plants: I’ve recently become a little bit obsessed with them and have an assortment of succulents and leafy friends situated around my bedroom. Not only do they release oxygen and make the room feel a bit more peaceful, I’ve found that having greenery around me has done wonders for how I feel about being stuck inside.
Bring a bit of the outdoors inside: if you’re worried about becoming a serial plant killer, here’s a list of options that are practically impossible to kill:
Every breath you take…
If you really want to make a difference, give breathwork a go. If you haven’t the time to delve in, here’s a super simple one, recommended by expert Aimee Hartlet, that you can do to feel more relaxed: “Breathe in through the nose for four, hold the breath for two, and then breathe out for six, and then repeat that for a few rounds”.
There are loads of books and resources on how to start taking control of your breathing and they usually consist of meditation methods, observing your own breathing and little exercises to do as you go about daily life.
So, take a deep breath – a proper one – and see what a difference it can make.