As an addendum to my earlier post on healthy breathing, I’d like to focus on breathing habits. Just like walking, breathing is so ingrained in us that most of us do not pay any attention to this habit. Usually, breathing is an automatic function, but you may have noticed firsthand it is under voluntary control too. For example, we control our breath whenever we sing, swim, go out for a run, or blow out birthday candles. The amount and frequency of breathing varies depending at the task at hand you are performing. Your breathing is different when you are at rest sitting on your couch compared to walking up a few flights of stairs.
Dysfunctional or poor breathing habits are way too pervasive in Americans and we lean on the habit of shallow breathing or not breathing at all just to get by. People misuse their respiratory system unaware of how to breathe healthier and perhaps out of a need to feel security in an uncertain world, he/she will mistakenly stabilize random parts of their bodies to compensate. Noticing your less-than-optimal breathing habits is an essential step towards using breath to improve your posture, physical and mental well-being, overall functioning, and quality of life.
To grow more aware of your unconscious breathing habits, the following exploration will assist in understanding how you breathe naturally. Though the moment you bring attention to your breath you interrupt the involuntary flow and rhythm of how you breathe, you will learn something about your unconscious breathing habits:
– Rest into a comfortable chair in a position where you are half sitting and half lying down. Place one hand lightly on your upper chest, and place the other hand on your lower chest just above your abdomen.
– Breathe in and out as you normally would. Notice which hand moves or rises more. This indicates if you naturally prefer to chest breathe or belly breathe.
– Now, take in a deep breath. Which hand moved more? Did you use your nose or mouth? This indicates your breathing pattern under stress.
– As you are breathing comfortably, are there any pauses in the rhythm of your breathing? You may have noticed a pause after inhalation, exhalation, or both.
– What is the quality of your breath? Do you tend to inhale more than you exhale? Are your inhales and exhales characterized by effort or do you draw in air easily?
– If inhaling involves effort, where do you feel in your body that is most involved? Your neck, shoulders, chest, belly? Do you hasten your exhale or do you just let it go?
These questions are worth exploring and serve as an introduction to bringing awareness to your breath. It might raise some ah-ha moments explaining why you have the breathing habits you currently practice. I’d like to suggest to examine your breathing habits in all types of situations – during exercise, rest, social functions, work, etc – and delve into the emotions that are at play in these situations.
I’d love to hear what you find and learn about you, your breathing, and your body.