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3 min read

Control Your Breath, Control Your Life

90% of individuals suffer from dysfunctional breathing. Breathing is taken for granted because it is an automatic function that does not require voluntary control. However, it can be voluntarily controlled as well, which gives us hope to be able to correct the patterns. First, we will go over the problem. Then we will cover the solution and finish with some simple drills to help make the change.

Most people breathe through the mouth and upper chest, but that is problematic for a number of reasons:

  1. If done at an early age, it leads to improper face, dental and jaw development.
  2. It facilitates a stress-based neural state, called a Sympathetic state.
  3. It leads to upper body postural dysfunction like rounded shoulders (slouching) and a forward head carriage (headaches, anyone?)
  4. It impairs deep sleep because you end up breathing too fast.
  5. For the same reason, it will elevate your blood pressure and resting heart rate.
  6. Many people are not breathing with their mouths gaping wide open, nevertheless, even a subtle opening is enough to shift the pattern.

None of those are desirable, but luckily there is hope! And it’s right under your nose, actually, it is your nose.

Why Nasal Breathing

Nasal breathing facilitates the activation of your diaphragm, the major respiratory muscle. Nasal breathing increases oxygen uptake by 10-20% and stimulates a nerve behind your nose which lowers blood pressure, your heart rate, and aids in deeper sleep.

The nose performs over 30 functions, including warming and humidifying incoming air, filtering a significant number of germs and bacteria from the air you breathe in, acting as a reservoir for nitric oxide, an essential gas that dilates your blood vessels, and much more! Plus, the nose itself represents only 30% of your nasal cavity- the other 70% is inside the skull. If you run your tongue across the roof of your mouth, that is the floor of your nasal cavity.

Before reviewing a few simple drills to help you not only shift the patterns but master them for use during exercise and life, let’s clarify something first. Breathe Right strips are wonderful, especially for a deviated septum, as are nasal dilators, although proceed with caution when using mouth tape, as it can be tricky. If breathing aids help you, by all means, utilize them. Just remember they are just that- aids to use in conjunction with proper breathing techniques!

Crocodile Breathing

Lying face down with your forehead resting on your forearms, keep your mouth closed and breathe deeply through your nose. It’s ok to exhale through your mouth, but you can always exhale through the nose.

As you inhale, your lower ribs should expand outward. You should feel your stomach press into the ground, providing some external feedback as to whether you’re doing it correctly. On the back side of your body, your lower back will slowly rise. As you exhale, the opposite will occur.

Start with 1 minute and progress to 3 minutes as desired.

Face-Up Breathing

Another drill, which is a small progression, is flipping over, face-up. Elevate your legs onto a chair, a bench, a couch, or if there isn’t anything, simply bend your knees placing your feet flat on the floor. Place a light object, like an iPad, a magazine, or even your flat hand on your belly button.

As you inhale, your ribs will expand, but what you will be feeling for it the rising and falling of the object on your belly button. If it’s not moving, you’re not doing it right.

It is common to start to feel very relaxed in both of these drills, maybe even sleepy, your mouth may water, all are various signs that your nervous system is shifting into a relaxed state, called Parasympathetic state.

Start with 1 minute and progress to 3 minutes as desired.

Superman Breathing

The next progression is standing in a Superman pose. Stand in a tall posture and place your hands on your lower ribs, above your hips. As you breathe, you will feel your ribs expand into your palms, you will also notice your belly expanding outwards.

Start with 1 minute and progress to 3 minutes as desired.

Practice and Progression

The progressions are based on the amount of external feedback that is provided to activate your diaphragm, from most to least. Crocodile breathing provides the most, Face-up breathing provides a little less, and Superman breathing provides the least. There is no urgency to move from one drill to another. Another way to progress within the same breathing technique is the number of breaths.

The optimal number is 6 breath cycles (inhale + exhale) in 1 minute. For example, you try Crocodile for the first time for 1 minute. You breathe nasally without counting breaths. You start counting and get 12. You can stay with that drill until you get your breathe cycles down to 6.  If you can do this, it will work wonders.

Whichever drill you choose, here are example times of the day you could do them:

  • Upon waking
  • Before activity
  • After activity

Bonus Drill: The Triangle

Being able to stay calm during stressful situations or to accelerate sleepiness are valuable skills. Triangle breathing is a strong weapon in this battle. You’ve probably heard about “breath holds” when it comes to breath work. Whereyou place the hold, the body will consider it an extension of what breath you just took.

For example, if you take a big inhale and hold, the body thinks you’re still inhaling. Inhaling is a stimulatory action. The opposite is true for exhale. If you hold your breath after you exhale, the body thinks you are still exhaling. Exhaling is a relaxing action. Therefore, we place a small breath hold after an exhale. Remember the word “small.” It’s never done as a test or to discomfort. There are various rhythms one could do, but we will share one of our favorites.

  1. Breathe deep through your nose, exhaling through your choice of nose or mouth.
  2. Do this 3x.
  3. After the 3rd exhale, hold your breath for 2-5s.
  4. Repeat until calm.

Almost every action of your body is influenced by breathing. We hope these simple drills will help elevate your life and performance.

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