Everyone breathes but the question is: are you a shallow or good quality breather? Do you know how to breathe fully, using your whole lung capacity? Also, do you know how to breathe appropriately for whatever activity you do? Do you know how to breathe to your maximum capacity OR….do you know that you are a shallow breather even though you try to take a deep breath? Let’s start with a simple breath test: Firstly, take a deep breath and ask yourself a couple of questions: 1) What moved the most – upper chest or your abdomen? 2) Place your fingertips on your belly. INHALE deeply and observe the following: does your belly button move towards your spine, or away from your spine? Next, EXHALE deeply and observe whether your belly button moves towards your spine, or away from your spine? What else do you notice when you breathe deeply? Which part/s moved the most when you take a deep breath – your upper chest or your abdomen area? Does your lower ribcage move? Do you gasp when you inhale or is it a relaxed breath? Take note of your answers.

Respiratory physiologists test their patient’s quality of breathing using a device called a ‘capnograph’. Out of interest, I also used a capnograph so I could see how I breathed. I experimented with different types of breathing patterns. I was fascinated by what I observed! What I noticed is that when you change from stressful, shallow breathing to good quality breathing from one breath to the next, it only takes a one breath to change the response of how your mind/body is feeling. So for example, if you have been breathing shallowly and feel stressed, you can instantly change the body’s response so that you feel relaxed just by taking a lengthened, good quality breath.

This means two things. Firstly, good quality breathing allows you to become centred if you are really stressed, or perhaps experiencing a panic or asthma attack. Secondly, if a situation causing you stress is unavoidable, breathing properly helps you become focused on whatever you need to do. An example would be if you are about to give a presentation or perform on stage. In both these instances stress is a natural response, so it isn’t an issue as a certain amount of stress helps us all perform better. The stress becomes an issue if it negatively interferes with your performance. At least by making sure you are not breathing shallowly – but instead controlling your breathing properly – you can stay in control and feel confident with your presentation or performance.

Think about how valuable this way of breathing could be for you in any situation where you find yourself really stressed and you need to instantly relax. Rest assured, a relaxation response can happen instantly whether you are standing or sitting, by yourself or amongst a crowd. Going back to the first two questions I asked at the start. The answers to these two questions is very important. Q1: If you predominately move your upper chest when you breathe, then you need to learn good quality breathing. Q2: If your belly button moves OUTWARDS away from your spine when you exhale AND/OR moves IN towards your spine when you inhale, then you are NOT breathing correctly. Think of when you blow air into a balloon…..the balloon expands. The same should happen when you inhale – your abdomen should relax and expand, which is what happens when you are in a deep sleep.

Improving your breathing and learning how to take a proper breath that utilises your whole lung capacity is one of the most important and valuable things you can learn. A simple breathing exercise is to do some deep, rhythmical breathing making sure you regulate both your inhalation and your exhalation. Using the muscles of your throat to control the air flow, make sure that when you inhale, your belly button moves away from your spine; when you exhale, your belly button moves inwards towards your spine. Also, avoid unnecessarily moving your upper chest. When you breathe deeply, if you are predominately using your lower ribcage area and/or abdomen, you will notice improvements in your mental and physical health because you will acquire the ability to go into a very deep state of relaxation. If you consciously breathe properly, there will be an accumulative positive effect. Good quality breathing will oxygenate your body fully and properly. Improving your breathing is well worth the effort as it will bring you rewards that will enhance and improve your overall mental and physical health.

Sophie Gabriel is the author of “Breathe For Life” If you have any questions or want more information regarding Breathing Training, please visit breatheforlife.com