This may come as a shock, so brace yourself: You might be breathing the wrong way. Yes, that’s right — you may need to brush up on that thing you’ve been doing your whole life, 20,000 times a day. Many Americans breathe predominantly through their upper chests due to chronic stress, rather than breathing deeply through their diaphragms, according to Jack Greene, a California-based holistic health practitioner. Here’s how to adjust your breathing pattern and lower stress in the process.
To begin, determine which camp you fall under: chest or diaphragmatic breathing. To do so, simply place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly, then take a deep breath. Did your chest or your belly move more? Although we all breathe at least a little bit through our diaphragms (we couldn’t survive otherwise), deep diaphragmatic breathers inhale more significantly into their lower stomachs and have little movement in their chests. It helps to think of the stomach like a balloon expanding on the inhale.
You may be wondering how this makes a difference. Not only does deep diaphragmatic breathing lower stress and anxiety through longer inhales and exhales (think: yoga and meditation), but it also massages abdominal organs to promote digestion. Diaphragmatic breathing also requires less energy than involving the chest muscles, Greene says, so you can channel that extra vitality at the gym or the office.
If you’ve discovered you’re a chest breather, not to worry: With a little mindfulness, you can learn to breathe through your belly. Greene suggests lying flat on your back and placing your left hand on your heart and your right hand on your belly, just below the navel. Next, close your eyes and breathe in through your nose while trying to direct the breath into the hand on your belly. Practice this for several cycles of breath. After you’ve gotten the hang of it, practice this technique sitting upright. And don’t feel discouraged that the change doesn’t happen overnight — all good things take time.
Are you a chest breather? Let us know in the comments.