Breathing exercises for everyone

December 13, 2010

Breathing exercises reduce stresses

Breathing is fundamental

It's the very first thing we do and something we do all our lives — but believe it or not, breathing is something a lot of people have trouble with. Breathing problems are caused by many things, such as:

  • Short-term health problems like colds and coughs
  • Long-term problems like COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder)
  • Getting older
  • Stress
  • Overdoing exercise

No matter what the reason, scientists know that better breathing means better physical and mental health.

There are a lot of choices out there for finding ways to breathe better: yoga breathing, relaxation breathing, breathing for people with breathing problems, and even "better-breathing" machines to name just a few. Here, we'll focus on a few simple exercises almost everyone can do.

How is breathing supposed to work?

The key to good breathing is deep breathing, which uses all of your lungs for breathing instead of just the top parts.

Did you know that babies and small children do deep breathing naturally until their chests mature? Unfortunately, after that, they may then go through the rest of their lives without taking a proper breath.

In fact, The University of Missouri-Kansas City Center on Aging Studies says that aging is a big cause of many breathing problems. Indeed, blood oxygen levels are often lowered by 20 percent as we age. A mix of overall weaker muscles, weaker and stiffer muscles around the lungs, and weaker lung tissue adds up to all kinds of problems, such as respiratory disease, heart disease, and loss of mental ability.

It's true. Loss of blood oxygen brought on by weaker breathing is a big part of forgetfulness in the elderly. But it can also be behind "slow thinking" in younger people. So here are a few exercises that can help people of all ages breathe more deeply - and better - from the UMKC Web site:

First, two steps to help you find out how deep breathing should feel:

  1. Lie flat on your back with some small pillows under your neck and knees if you need them. As you lie there, you'll see a small rise in your stomach as you breathe in, and a slight drop as you breathe out.
  2. Next, put your hands, palms down and middle fingers barely touching, on your stomach at the bottom of your rib cage. Take a slow, deep breath. As you do, your stomach will expand, causing your fingertips to separate slightly. This kind of deep breathing uses all of your lungs instead of just the middle and upper parts, which is what usually happens in "chest breathing."

Now to the exercises. You can do them anywhere and anytime, though in each case it's best to do whichever you chose for five full minutes.

Exercise 1 — "Complete" Breathing Exercise

  1. Sit up straight. Let your breath out.
  2. Breathe in and, at the same time, relax your belly muscles. Feel as if your belly is filling with air.
  3. After filling your belly, keep breathing in. Fill up the middle of your chest; feel your chest and rib cage expand.
  4. Hold your breath in for a moment, then begin to let it out as slowly as possible.
  5. As you slowly breathe out, relax your chest and rib cage. Begin to pull your belly in to force out any leftover breath.
  6. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
  7. Relax your face and mind.
  8. Let everything go.

Exercise 2 — "Humming" Breath Exercise

  1. Sit up straight. Exhale.
  2. Inhale and, at the same time, relax your belly muscles. Feel as though your belly's filling with air.
  3. After filling your belly, keep inhaling. Fill up the middle of your chest. Feel your chest and rib cage expand.
  4. Now, as you begin to slowly let your breath out, make a "hum" sound. Keep making it as long as you can. Pull your stomach muscles in to squeeze out a few more seconds of humming.
  5. Relax.

Exercise 3 — Chinese Breath Exercise

  1. Stand up with your arms at your sides.
  2. Through your nose, take three short breaths without breathing out:
    On the first breath, raise your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height.
    On the next breath, open your arms straight out to your sides (still at shoulder height).
    On the third breath, lift your arms straight over your head.
  3. Begin to breathe out through your mouth, moving your arms back down to your sides as you do.
  4. Repeat 10 or 12 times. If you get lightheaded, stop the exercise.

Happy breathing – and thinking, and being!

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