Breathing: It’s something everyone (barring those with health issues, of course) does from the moment they enter the world. And when you really think about it, it’s probably the only activity that you do on a consistent basis all day, every day. The average person is said to take about 16 breaths per minute. Over the course of a day, that means you’re taking in–and letting out–more than 23,000 breaths. When’s the last time you did 23,000 of anything?
A Quick Behind the Scenes on Breathing
Even though you breathe all the time, you might not know what’s really happening in the body. All of the cells in your body need oxygen in order to function. When you inhale, the oxygen you take in goes into your bloodstream, which is then delivered throughout the body and becomes a source of energy. Once the cells use the oxygen, the waste product is carbon dioxide, which is exhaled out. While that’s the basics of it, breathing is obviously a very complicated biological process. The good news is that your body is taking care of it for you; you just need to focus on breathing at your best.
Oxygen in; carbon dioxide out. Repeat to keep living. With all of that breathing, you’d think you’d be a pro. But despite all the inhaling and exhaling that comes so naturally, you could likely be breathing better than you are, and there are benefits to doing so beyond the cellular level.
- Create Calm: Stress is likely another constant in your life. When the going gets rough, it’s not uncommon for your heart to beat faster, your muscles to tense, and your body to get overheated. Releasing the negative energy bound up in the body can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths. And the more you practice this kind of breathing–when stressed or not–the better you’ll be able to handle whatever comes your way.
- Increase Energy: Tired and sluggish days happen, but that doesn’t mean the to-do list disappears so that you can rest and regenerate. Breathing, especially when done in fast, rapid succession known as “bellows,” can help to give you a little pick me up, without having to turn to another cup of coffee.
- Improve Health: A variety of studies have shown that better breathing can help to prevent and improve medical ailments.
Tips for Better Breathing
Plenty of day-to-day reasons for improving your breathing exist, but maybe the one that will motivate your most is your workout. Breathing at your best can fuel your exercise while at the same time helping you to reach your goals more easily. Try these breathing tips next time you lace up for some fitness:
- Breathe from the Belly: Even though your lungs are in your chest, breathing only from that place is considered shallow. Add segments of deeper breaths by ballooning your belly with air, and then completely collapsing in your stomach to push it all out. If this technique is new to you, or hard to make a habit, place one hand on your chest, and one hand on your belly to help direct the flow of breath. Practice this breathing method while at rest and add it in occasionally while you exercise.
- Nose vs. Mouth: Where you breathe from–the nose or the mouth–will often be dictated by the type of exercise you do. For example, in yoga, breathing in through the nose and exhaling through the mouth is a common practice. However, with higher cardio-based fitness, such as running and biking, breathing only through the mouth allows for a larger intake of oxygen and discourages clenching of the jaw. If you’re doing more strength training, you’ll likely need big intakes of air through the mouth to prep for a lift, followed by a heavy force of air out as you complete the lift. Make sure the method you use if most efficient for the workout you do.
- Find a Rhythm: When it works for your workout, find a rhythmic pattern for your breath that follows the motion of your movements. Use this pattern to set a pace, allowing your breathing to increase or decrease as needed.
Just like any skill, breathing requires practice. Be intentional about each breath that comes in and out, and you’ll be treated to many benefits throughout your body.