What happens when we breathe in?
When we breathe in, various parts of our body move to enable the air to enter our lungs. Our upper ribs lift forwards and upwards, our lower ribs lift sideways, thus broadening the lower ribcage. We also have a muscle called the diaphragm that attaches to the lowest ribs. When this contracts, it increases the size of the lungs and presses down on the contents of the abdomen, which causes the abdominal wall to push forwards. When we relax, the ribs move downwards again, and the diaphragm relaxes, moving upwards within the thorax.
What is the best way to breathe?
If we mainly use the upper ribs when breathing, we use a great deal more energy than using the lower ribs and diaphragm. It takes much more effort to lift the upper ribs and draws less air in than if the air movement occurs by diaphragm action. The ideal breathing pattern is therefore to encourage the diaphragm to work most. If you observe any trained singers, you will notice that even when they take in a deep breath their shoulders do not seem to move.
What happens if we do not breathe correctly?
Various symptoms may occur when over-breathing including breathlessness, frequent deep sighs or yawning, light-headedness, cold hands and feet, fatigue, poor sleep, tingling/numbness in lips/extremities, anxiety and digestive disturbances.
For those who are over-breathing to the point where they are causing themselves symptoms, breathing retraining exercises are recommended (taught in yoga classes, but many apps are available too). For those who are merely breathing inefficiently, you will feel you have more energy.
Breathing is the first and last thing we do. In yoga practice, it is called Pranayama: the regulation of the breath through certain techniques and exercise. Mindful breathing exercises can be a tool for developing the capacity for attention and mindfulness. Breathing is simple and always there for us. It is a source of energy, relaxation, and calm when needed. By bringing awareness to something we do automatically, all day, every day, breathing can help anchor us in the present moment and provide a pathway to improved health and well-being. So, just breathe...