Okay, I want you to try something with me.
Put one hand on your belly, just below your ribcage, the other on your chest. Breathe in through your nose, then out through your mouth.
I’ll get back to you about what you should notice and why this is a good little exercise to do each day.
In the meantime, keep breathing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about breathing lately. I recently joined a community choir, which, along with providing some good vibes and a switch-off for my week, is a great way to quickly work out whether your breathing technique is on point. You see, it’s rather hard galloping through a performance, singing covers of Of Montreal, David Bowie, Janell Monae and the like without a solid grasp on how to keep oxygen in your lungs and a smile on your face. Blacking out on stage is not for the faint-hearted.
So, you’ve got one hand on your chest, the other on your belly.
Breathe in deeply. Exhale.
Which hand rises outwards (or upwards, if you’re lying down)? It should be the hand on your belly. The one on your chest should be still. When we breathe (and not just when we’re singing), we want to be doing it from the deepest region of our guts.
Shallow breathing — breathing from our chests — means we’re taking in quicker and shorter gulps of air, meaning less oxygen each time. A little micro-stress on our physical selves. Over time, our bodies remain in a constant cycle of stress. This can aggravate illness or prolong recovery from one. You might get neck pain, back pain, headaches and posture change. You’ll probably be more stressed, too.
Meanwhile, breathing from our abdomen can help strengthen the muscles in the diaphragm and result in breathing more efficiently overall. You’ll get a bigger dose of oxygen and use more of your lung capacity.
Do this breathing exercise — noticing where we’re breathing for and for how long each time — for a few minutes and you’ll notice the pace of each breath slows, and the size of them increases. You’ll discover after about five minutes, you’ll feel more relaxed.
Working in a stressful job with frenetic pace and, at times, unrealistic expectations means you can go an entire day without thinking about something as simple as your breathing.
I bet anything, if I say to you right now: relax your jaw, your forehead, your shoulders — you’ll immediately realise how much tension we carry throughout our body. We hold tension in so many places, even when we use our lungs.
Take a few minutes each day to reassess your breathing. The more you practice deep breathing, the more you can lower your blood pressure, reduce heart rate, relax your muscles, increase your energy levels. And get a nice big shot of stress-relief in the process.
Three o’clock cuppa and a biscuit? Try it with a side of air.