Top 3 Life-Changing Breathing Exercises for Beginners
By Dr. Chad Walding, DPT
October 2nd, 2019
Have you ever heard of the saying, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it?
Without practice, it’s easy to forget the proper way to do things. This can include a certain skill set, exercise, and even breathing.
In fact, a common habit many people have is poor posture. Not practicing proper posture can lead to inadequate lung function, directly impacting your other vital organs that rely on receiving enough oxygen. Sitting and standing the proper way dictates just how much air you’re able to breathe in.
According to specialists, during most daily activities, our lungs are only working at approximately 50 percent of their capacity. And, like any part of your body, your lungs thrive when they’re being used properly. They want more activity and movement!
I’m sure you’ve heard how many pollutants that are always floating in the air. This can include allergens, car exhaust, cigarettes, and dust. In order to help your lungs cleanse themselves of these nasty toxins, you need to challenge your lungs by practicing more rigorous activities to get them to work at full capacity.1
Today I want to teach you three breathing exercises for beginners that you can do for your lungs so you can not only keep them strong and healthy but also:
- Improve your mental clarity
- Fall asleep quickly and sleep more soundly
- Calm yourself in stressful situations
I encourage you to begin practicing these breathing techniques regularly and make them part of your daily routine. By doing so, you’ll soon be using more of your lung capacity naturally and you won’t even realize it!
Belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, is a common deep-breathing technique that focuses on using your diaphragm – a dome-shaped muscle that sits at the base of your lungs.
When you inhale, your diaphragm will contract and move downwards, allowing extra room in your chest for your lungs to expand and fill with air. Once you exhale, your diaphragm will move back up, effectively driving this air out of your lungs and body.2
By getting out of the habit of taking shallow breaths with your chest and instead using your diaphragm when you breathe, you can:3
- Strengthen your diaphragm
- Decrease the amount of oxygen your body needs
- Use less energy when breathing
- Slow down your breathing rate
Other benefits of belly breathing include:
- Better digestion
- Activating your diaphragm gently massages your stomach and intestines. This reduces GI symptoms that include pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and urgency.4
- Improved mental health
- A study done by Frontiers in Psychology found that belly breathing improved cognitive ability and reduced negative psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and post-traumatic stress disorder.5
- Lower blood pressure
- According to Harvard Medical School, there is an unavoidable correlation between stress and blood pressure. To manage stress naturally, exercise, a good night’s sleep, and deep breathing exercises are recommended.6
- Help with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- The COPD Foundation recommends belly breathing as one of the exercises you can do to improve your ability to breathe properly. With COPD, your diaphragm doesn’t work properly and this form of breathing will help to strengthen your diaphragm and help you to breathe easier.7
- Falling asleep quicker
- The National Sleep Foundation says that by relaxing your body and focusing on your breathing while performing this deep breathing exercise, you’re able to release tension, clear your mind, and fall asleep more quickly.8
Using belly breathing for kids can be especially beneficial since this technique can combat the “flight or fight” response they may experience during emotional or stressful moments. By using this breathing exercise, young children who don’t yet have coping skills can learn how to practice mindfulness and control their emotions.9
How to use the Belly Breathing Technique
If you would like to watch how I perform this belly breathing exercise, please watch the video above to follow along with me.
- Lie down in a comfortable position and place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
- Relax as much as possible. This includes your legs, feet, arms, hands, and even face. This will allow your body to take in as much air as it feels it needs.
- Slowly breathe in the first ⅔ of your breath through your nose, letting air into your stomach. The hand on your stomach should rise and the hand on your chest should remain still.
- Continue to breathe slowly through your nose and allow the last ⅓ of your breath to inflate your chest. The hand on your stomach should be still and the hand on your chest should rise.
- To exhale, let ⅓ of your breath out of your chest first, followed by the remaining ⅔ of your breath out of your stomach.
Box breathing also referred to as square breathing, is a stress-reducing breathing exercise used by many Navy SEALs and police officers. This type of breathing is used to reset your breathing and improve your mental focus.
Some of the benefits of box breathing include:
- Stress relief
- When you are practicing box breathing exercises, you are reducing the amount of cortisol – a stress hormone – in your body. This also reduces the amount of anxiety and depression.10
- Increased focus
- Researchers found that this breathing technique helped participants involved in the study focus and manage impulses, such as smoking and other addictive behaviors.11
- Improvement of future stressful situations
- One study found that when practicing relaxation techniques, such as this breathing exercise, your genes that are associated with energy is boosted and your genes associated with stress experience a reduction in their activation. This study suggests that regular practice of breathing exercises can have a short or long-term effect on these genes, positively affecting the way you may react in future stressful situations.12
How to use the Box Breathing Technique
Follow along with me in my guided box breathing video by clicking here.
This breathing exercise practices counting and aims to make each step of your breath the same length of time. I want you to imagine each step as one side of a box. If it helps, draw it with your hand as you’re breathing.
- Find a quiet place and sit upright in a comfortable position.
- Through your nose, begin inhaling slowly. Count to three in your head.
- Hold your breath for three seconds.
- Exhale slowly for three seconds.
- Hold your breath for three seconds.
- Repeat. Draw out the length of your breath when you’re comfortable to do so.
The final breathing technique I want to share is the 4/4 breath used in Kundalini Yoga.
This breathing technique is meant to put you into a state of relaxation, while also bringing you energy. Kundalini breathing is a popular breathing exercise that you can do when you’re in a hurry and throughout the day.
Benefits associated with the 4/4 Kundalini breath exercise are:13
- Quick to perform
- Practicing the 4/4 breathing exercise only takes seven to eight seconds. Performing a whole cycle of these breaths can be done in only two to three minutes.
- Fast source of energy
- This technique is known to bring you a burst of energy after it's completed. This is a great exercise to do before returning to work after your lunch break.
- Mentally calming
- You should feel calm and mentally rejuvenated after completing this breathing exercise. This breathing technique is highly recommended when you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed.
How to use the Kundalini Breathing Technique
Click here to watch and follow along with me as I demonstrate how to perform the 4/4 breathing exercise.
Since this is for beginners, I break my breaths into three parts instead of four. Feel free to do whichever you are most comfortable with.
- Sit down in a chair or on the floor, keeping your spine as straight as possible
- Place your hands together, with your fingers pointed upwards. If you’re new to this exercise, you can use your hands to move upwards as you’re breathing as a visual, this is demonstrated in my video.
- Breathe in slightly for ¼ of your breath and hold for three seconds. Do not exhale.
- Repeat three more times (or repeat only twice if you’re unable to go the full length).
- Exhale completely.
A Full-Body Revitalization Experience
The way we breathe can have a great impact on our minds, bodies, and overall health. Practicing breathing exercises is like flipping a switch to reset and center ourselves.
When you incorporate the breathing techniques mentioned above and combine it with a proper diet and lifestyle choices, you’ll be primed to experience the healthy, high-energy, and invigorated lifestyle that nature always intended us to have.
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