The average person takes around 16 breaths per minute. Breathing is something you do every single day, involuntarily, and you probably don't even think about it. However, there's a pretty good chance you're not breathing properly, mindlessly and automatically taking shallow, incomplete inhales and exhales on the reg. The thing is, learning how to breathe properly is legitimately one of the best things you can do for your overall health, not to mention it's a straightforward method that you can start practicing every single day — if you're willing to learn, that is.
Yes, breathing is something you do on autopilot, which is pretty cool in and of itself (thanks, body). But Jacob Kountz, a marriage and family therapist trainee and clinic manager at California State University, Bakersfield, tells Elite Daily that "just as a captain needs to learn how to take control of a turbulent plane, you need to take full control of how you breathe." If you don't, he says, stress will simply build and build and build. Side note: Is anyone else as ~shooketh~ as I am by that airplane simile? I mean, I got chills.
According to Kountz, whenever he asks other people to take a deep breath, he tells me he notices tension — a lot of tension.
This tension, he tells Elite Daily, arises in people's facial muscles, their chest, and their shoulders — all areas that, according to Kountz, shouldn't be moving at all when you take a deep breath. So, uh, where should you breathe from then?
Nancy Gerstein, a yoga teacher, author of Guiding Yoga’s Light, and founder of Motivational Yoga, has the answers, fam. She tells Elite Daily that breathing from your belly is absolutely essential to achieving a relaxed and blissed-out state of being. In her own classes, she says, she teaches diaphragmatic breathing — aka breathing directly from your diaphragm — in every single session. "Taking full and complete breaths [in yoga class] allows us to slow down our heart rate, bring our blood pressure down, clear our minds, and relax our muscles," Gerstein tells Elite Daily.
According to the yoga teacher, breathing deeply from your diaphragm, rather than in shallow inhales from your chest, ignites the body’s relaxation response and is the single most important thing you can do to reduce everyday stress. "When we’re not breathing fully, blood pressure goes up, heart rate increases, muscles become tense, and even our thinking becomes scattered," Gerstein tells Elite Daily.
In all honesty, though, I wouldn't blame you if you said breathing from your diaphragm felt weird AF at first.
After all, it's something you're not used to, and if it's a completely new concept to you, you might have no freaking idea where to start with your belly breathing practice. Has your entire life been a lie?
No need to be as dramatic as me, though, because Gerstein says the practice is as simple as setting aside just a few minutes a day to lie on your back, close your eyes, and focus on only your breath — nothing else. "As you breathe through your nose, bring all your awareness to your breathing," she says. "Notice if your breathing is shallow or noisy. Is your inhale the same length as your exhale? The idea is to slide into an awareness of the breath — gently."
Then, she tells Elite Daily, remember to soften your belly. Consciously release any tension you may be holding there, and if it helps, put your right hand on your abdomen and your left hand in the middle of your chest to literally feel the inhales and exhales as they happen. If you're breathing diaphragmatically, Gerstein says, your right hand will move up and down as your abdomen naturally extends out on the inhale, and it will lower on the exhale.
"Your left hand should stay relatively still. If only your left hand is moving, you’re breathing from your chest, and getting only about a third to one-half of the oxygen you’d get from diaphragmatic breathing," Gerstein tells Elite Daily.
To seal the deal with your belly breathing sessions, try invoking some mental imagery: Gerstein recommends thinking about your torso as a balloon, filling up with air, light, and energy from your belly on your inhale. Then, on your exhale, picture a tangible force of tension releasing from the crown of your head to your pelvic floor. "The deeper you breathe, the more relaxed and focused you become," she says. "Every inhale brings in fresh prana, life force. Every exhale releases the toxins and tensions of the muscles as well as the mind." So, how are you feeling now?