'm often asked, what are a few things I can do right now to improve my breathing? Without a doubt, improving your breathing mechanics, the way that you breathe, is a big step forward. My client's are always amazed at the positive impact this has on them right away, usually within a day or two.
Being more specific, the two things I'd encourage you to work on is nasal breathing and diaphragm breathing. These are the foundation of both the Essential Breath(tm) (breathing for health) and OxygenAdvantage(R) (breathing for sports) programs.
There are 30 different functions the nose performs to prepare the air for our body. When you breathe through the mouth, the air is not warmed, humidified and cleaned nearly as well, if at all, as the nose would do. The first goal of breathing training is to get the client breathing through their nose 24 hours a day, every day.
Two simple things you can do to foster nasal breathing includes 1) ensuring your tongue is in the roof of your mouth and 2) empowering a buddy to tell you when your mouth is open, even the tiniest bit. Awareness of how you breathe goes a long way to improving it.
When the tongue is in the roof of your mouth, it's more difficult for your mouth to drop open by itself. If the tongue is in the bottom of the mouth, the mouth opens much more easily. Give it a try.
Saying the letter “N” repeatedly, “nnnnnnnnnnnnn”, will give you an idea where the tongue belongs. Make sure the tongue stays away from your teeth. The tongue is a very strong muscle and can exert enough pressure on the teeth to move them over time.
Nasal congestion is one of the primary reasons we mouth breathe. If the nose is so clogged, it's hard or impossible to breathe through it.
During breathing training I teach a great technique known as the Nose Clearing Exercise. Most find their nose becomes unblocked within a few minutes. And with full breathing training, my clients find the nose stays clear all the time.
Breathing through the nose while sleeping and doing physical exercise is super hard to accomplish. By the way, if you snore, you are most likely breathing through your mouth. I have some great techniques that ensures the mouth stays closed all night and while exercising/training.
And for you athletes that mouth breathe during exercise, please, please, please stop as it is negatively impacting your performance and may be making you ill. I teach athletes to breathe gently through the nose while exercising and how to do so to increase performance. The trick is getting the breath just right, balanced with the need for adequate amounts of oxygen.
The diaphragm is the breathing muscle. Attached to the bottom of the lungs, the diaphragm contracts downward to create a negative force in the lungs, which sucks air in from the outside. This is much like sucking air a milkshake through a straw. When we exhale, the diaphragm “snaps-back” against the bottom of the lungs, pushing the air out. It's a very simple but elegant process.
For a host of reasons, our breathing may stop using the diaphragm to breathe and use the intercostal muscles of the chest; muscles between the ribs. The intercostal muscles move the rib cage in and out, exerting a force on the lungs similar to very mild CPR compressions.
While “chest breathing” is an effective way to breathe, it's not nearly as efficient as breathing in the diaphragm. In fact, chest breathing is a back up system designed to be used when there's a problem with the diaphragm or during maximal physical exercise.
The diaphragm is located in a 3-4 inch band below the bottom of your sternum, where the ribs come together in the front of your chest, and above your belly button. See the photo above. Where you see the gold band is where the diaphragm lives.
Focusing on and breathing in this “gold band” area is key to breathing with the diaphragm. You should notice that as you breathe in, the gold band area is expanding outwards. When you breathe out, the gold band area should move inwards.
Practicing breathing in the gold band area usually moves breathing out of the chest and into the diaphragm quickly. Most of my breathing training clients find they are involuntarily diaphragm breathing all the time after about a week of focused practice sessions a few times a day.
A great start to improving your breathing, and as a result your health or athletic performance, is to learn to nasal and diaphragm breathe all the time. Using the tips I've mentioned in this article will go a long way towards accomplishing this. As I always say, how you breathe really matters.