Breathing is the most important thing in life.
There is no denying that really. You stop breathing, you stop living. Did you know though, that your breathing could be making you stressed? Learning to breathe in the right way might just be the most important thing you ever learn – in my opinion anyway.
You may have heard me talk before about how important it is to breathe correctly. I’m not going to even pretend that this isn’t something I preach whenever I get the chance. You see, I know how dramatically it has changed my life and I am just so eager to share this impact with as many people as I can.
I’m sure there are some of you reading this thinking, “I am pretty effective in my breathing skills thanks Kate, I’ve literally been doing it since the moment I was born, I think I’m ok on this one.”.
You are of course right, however, there are many way to breathe and most people I meet aren’t breathing effectively, or even properly. It’s true, really.
Take a moment to just think about how you breathe.
Place your hand on your stomach, perhaps put your other hand on your chest and just take a few breaths in and out, don’t change the way you breathe, just relax but be aware of how your body moves as you breathe.
For example, does your stomach move in or out when you breathe in? Does your chest move in our out as you breathe out? Do your shoulders move at all when you breathe? Where can you feel your breath when you breathe in? Perhaps you can feel it entering your nostrils? Maybe you can feel it in your throat?
Just be aware of how you breathe.
Ok, so now you know how you breathe, let’s just check a few things to make sure you are breathing efficiently.
When you took a breath in did your stomach go in our out?
It should go out.
I know that goes against what we have been unconsciously taught by phrases like “breathe in” (when we are trying to get through a narrow space) but when you breathe in, your body should expand, it has to, it is filling with air. So your diaphragm should move down and push your stomach out slightly.
Likewise, when you breathe out your stomach should go in. Your chest should also get smaller when you breathe out, and bigger when you breathe in.
As for your shoulders, they shouldn’t move when you breathe. If you need to use your shoulders to breathe in and out you are struggling to breathe and should probably see a medical professional to check for conditions such as asthma.
Optimising our wellbeing
Now we know how to breathe effectively so that our body is getting the most oxygen for the least amount of effort, we need to look at other factors which affect the impact our breathing has on our lives.
Obviously things like the quality of air we are breathing has an impact on our ability to focus and our general health. The most important factor though, by far, is the speed at which we breathe.
I can pretty much guarantee that when I asked you to focus on your breathing that it would have slowed, just becoming aware of our breathing we automatically slow our breathing down.
That’s exactly what we want to happen. When we breathe quickly our breathe becomes increasingly shallow and this means that, not only do we not get as much oxygen, but our body goes into fear mode. You see when we are scared or anxious one of the first things that happens is that our breathing becomes rapid and shallow. Because of this our body has learned to detect this as an early warning sign and to release chemicals into our blood stream to send messages to the rest of our body to enable us to run or fight. This is great if we are in real, physical danger, but if we are just worried about an observation or interview, these chemicals create a chain of events which can be quite damaging to our physical body. Worse still, if you have got into the habit of always breathing in a fast and shallow way, your bodies then believes you are permanently in danger so keeps you in a permanent state of alert.
What can we do to change our breathing?
There are many ways to change our breathing. Any mindful breath work is based upon this principle of focusing on your breathing and slowing your breathing down in order to calm your nervous system and relax your body.
7-11 breathing which is perhaps the simplest of all breathing techniques. This is the first breathing technique I teach anyone when we start to learn about breath work. As soon as you can count to 11 you can master this simple technique. All you have to do is to count to 7 as you breathe in, and count to 11 as you breathe out. It is so incredibly simple. It is also one of the easiest techniques to use in any situation. You can count in your head and breathe in time whether you are at home alone or sitting in the middle of an exam.
Give it a try, do about five cycles and see how different your body feels. I guarantee you will feel more relaxed. Obviously techniques like this are to calm your body in the short term, but if you can learn over time to breathe more deeply and more slowly, your body will feel calmer all the time.
There are many more breathing techniques you can use to slow your breathing and calm you body.
Here are some starting points:
When you breathe effectively and slowly your body functions better and you feel more calm all day every day.
Breathe better, stress less, it’s really that simple.
If you would like more ideas for mindful breathing and want to introduce breathing techniques to your class, Calmer Classrooms with Mojo has a whole day a week dedicated to learning to breathe mindfully. This is of course available as part of my Calmer Classrooms school membership along with all my other resources for primary/elementary schools. If you want to have a little experiment without any committment you can also download my Calmer Classroom cards for free when you sign up for my fortnightly newsletter.