Breathing is Exercise: 4 Easy Breathing Exercises to Kickstart Your Day
Take away your breath, and what do you have? It sounds cheesy but it is true – your breath is your life force. Yet how deeply are you really breathing in any given moment? How much fresh oxygen is in your lungs right now, en route to infuse each gasping cell with new energy?
Read on now to add four powerful new breathing exercises to your personal wellness toolkit right away. As you practice each one, feel your body move. Ponder the marvel of breath – how just five minutes of focused breathing delivers equivalent benefits of the same in strength or cardiovascular training.
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing
Most adults breathe around 23,000 times per day. This might sound like a lot of breathing.
However, quantity isn’t all that matters when it comes to healthy breathing. How you breathe matters. Where you are breathing from also matters. Diaphragmatic breathing moves your inbreaths and outbreaths down out of your upper chest and into your abdomen.
Why is this important? Because deep abdominal or belly breathing gives your diaphragm a good workout. The diaphragm is your go-to muscle for respiration – breathing. A strong diaphragm has the important job of making more room for fresh breath to flow in and ensuring all the stale air flows out again.
You might think this movement is autonomic, but actually you have a great deal of control over how and how well your diaphragm does its job. Even better, by exercising the diaphragm with this breath technique, you also strengthen the full suite of abdominal muscles and your core, creating a stronger and more toned midsection.
So let’s do a few rounds of diaphragmatic breath!
To begin, find a quiet, comfortable place where you can lie down flat on your back for a few minutes. You can choose a bed, couch or the floor. You may want to put a small cushion under your neck and knees for extra back support.
Place one hand on your belly just under your lowest rib and one hand on your upper chest area near your breastbone. This will help you feel your diaphragm working to move your breath in and out of your body.
First, take a deep inbreath and then let it all out. Now, begin breathing in slowly and consciously, directing the breath all the way down into your abdomen. You will know you are doing it right when you feel your belly begin to rise underneath your hand.
Hold the breath at the top for just a moment. Then begin to slowly let the air out through your nose or mouth. Aim for a measured pace for this breath release. As you do, feel your abdominal cavity flatten underneath your hand as your diaphragm contracts to release the breath.
Do this five times to start with. Take care when sitting or standing up as you may feel light-headed at first. Make time to practice this twice per day and then increase it to three or four times per day for five to 10 minutes per session.
2. Stomach Deep Breathing
Along with the diaphragmatic breathing exercise you just learned, stomach deep breathing is one of the recommended breath exercises for recovery from COVID-19.
For this next breathing exercise, all you need to do is flop over onto your belly. Now that you are there, place your hands in front of your head with one hand covering the other. Rest your forehead on your hands as if on a little pillow.
As before, begin by taking one full inbreath and letting it all back out again. To start, close your mouth gently and place your tongue tip so it is touching the roof of your mouth.
Begin to breathe in through the nose, feeling your lungs fill as your chest and ribcage move to accommodate the breath flowing in. You will know you are doing it correctly when you can feel your belly pushing against the floor or pad.
Retain the breath at the top for just a moment, and then begin to let it flow out of your body through the nose. Feel your belly, ribcage and chest deflate as the air flows out. Do five rounds twice per day, increasing to three or four times daily.
Here again, be cautious as you sit and stand up as this type of breathing may cause a bit of lightheadedness at first.
3. 4-7-8 Breathing
Dr. Andrew Weil is famous for many things, but one of his best-known creations is 4-7-8 breathing, also known as the relaxing breath or stress-reducing breath.
And if there is one thing every single human can use more of in today’s hectic world, it is stress reduction. The stress relief comes not just from the act of breathing more fully and consciously, but also from the pairing of breath with a counting protocol. This pairing calms both body and mind at the same time.
Luckily, it won’t cause you stress to learn how to do 4-7-8 breathing because the technique is very easy to do. The name itself gives you a handy little cheat sheet for how to do it correctly.
Once again, it is always a good idea to take a full deep inbreath and let it all back out again before beginning any type of regimented breathing practice. So do that now and then we can begin.
To prepare, close your lips and place your tongue just behind the front teeth. You will inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, but the tongue needs to stay behind the front teeth as you do so.
Once you have the correct mouth and tongue position, begin by breathing in through your nose to a count of four. Now hold your breath to a count of seven. Finally, let the breath back out through your mouth to a count of eight. You can repeat this entire sequence four times in a row to start and do up to two full sequences in a row.
Dr. Weil cautions beginners not to do more than eight repetitions (eight rounds of the full 4-7-8 sequence) at first until you get acclimated to the process. Doing more than eight rounds as a beginner could lead to lightheadedness and dizziness.
4. Box Breathing
If you have ever daydreamed about being a Navy Seal, this last easy breathing exercise will be right up your ally. Box breathing first rose to prominence a few years ago when a Navy Seal named Mark Divine wrote an article about the technique for Time magazine.
Divine has since gone on to create several fitness programs built around box breathing. And researchers have studied the effect of creating a “box” with the breath and discovered it has its own range of superpowers, from lowering cortisol levels to promoting deep relaxation and mental focus.
The good news is that box breathing is incredibly easy to learn and remember once you grasp the idea of creating a “box” with your breathing pattern.
As we have been doing, first take a deep breath in and out to clear your lungs and start fresh.
Now start by finding a place to sit quietly where your back feels fully supported. Next, place one hand on your upper chest and the other hand over your belly. This will help you stay focused as you feel your body moving. Close your lips softly.
Begin breathing in through the nose, allowing your lungs to fill up with air and your body to move naturally to accommodate the same. Do not try to push or force your body to move, but rather allow the incoming breath to create its own inner space within you.
As you draw breath in, count 1, 2, 3, 4 silently. Next, hold the breath while counting 1, 2, 3, 4. Now, allow the breath to flow out through your nose while you count 1, 2, 3, 4. Finally, hold the breath to a count of 1, 2, 3, 4.
Do up to four rounds of inbreath/hold/outbreath/hold to start. Take care when standing up in case you feel light-headed or dizzy. In time, you can add on additional rounds as your breath control increases.
There are hundreds of different breath techniques, each with its own unique and significant health and wellness benefits. Which types of breath work best fit your personal fitness and health goals?
Did you know you can request a free customized Web Exercises breathing prescription that targets your specific needs and goals? Ask your physician for more information.