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Do you know how to breathe?

We breathe almost constantly, every day and night. But in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, this simple but profound aspect often goes unnoticed.

Perhaps you're only aware of your breath after going for a run or walking up a hill. Or maybe you notice it briefly before you fall asleep. Or maybe when you're anxious or stressed.

Harnessing your breath can affect a huge change over your body and mind. It's an incredibly powerful tool for wellbeing.

Two people running through a field
Breathing and movement

How to check your breathing

Here's a simple test to see what kind of shape your breathing is in.

  • Sit comfortably, and bring your hands to the bottom edge of your ribcage, where ribs meet your abdominals

  • Try and breathe normally, but send the breath down to your hands, making them move apart slightly by expanding the ribcage as you breathe in, and relaxing the ribs as you breathe out

  • Do this 5 times

  • Then take in a deep inhale, filling right up

  • Exhale comfortably, emptying but not creating strain

  • Hold your breath out of your body

  • Count steadily until you feel the first internal urge to breathe, or the first physical attempt to breathe (perhaps swallowing or the ribs hitching slightly)

  • Then take a gentle breath in

What number did you manage to count to?

It's widely acknowledged that anything less than 20 seconds suggests some maladaptation of breathing, in other words, there's room for improvement!

I was shocked when I first did this test - I was at about 12 seconds! But over time, I've managed to increase this steadily.

Poor breathing - for example, shallow breathing, rapid breathing and/or apical breathing - can have a wide ranging and often surprising range of symptoms, such as back pain, anxiety, insomnia, exhaustion, getting ill often, dry mouth, cardiovascular issues, increased pain, prolonged healing times, issues with posture and poor circulation. It can affect every system in the body.

A woman is doing yoga on a grey mat
Yoga for breathing health

Ways to improve your breathing

  • Breathe through your nose as much as possible. When you first start attempting this, it can feel really strange, as though you're not getting enough air into your body. Don't worry - you will be! It will just be arriving more slowly - the way it's meant to.

  • Breathe slowly through your nose while you exercise. This is tricky! And you might find that for a short period of time, your stamina seems to lower. But very quickly you'll get used to it.

  • Practise pranayama or breathwork. Yoga is a wonderful place to introduce breathwork into your life. We start and end every yoga session practising breath control, and breathe nasally throughout. There are lots of different pranayama techniques. Some of my favourites are Dirga Pranayama, alternate nostril breathing and box breathing (they're beginner friendly, too). Yoga integrates breath and movement, which has a profoundly calming and mood-boosting effect.

  • Foster an awareness of your breath. First notice how you're breathing and various points during the day, and then bring it deeper into the ribs, expanding your torso with each breath. Perhaps starting with 10 deep breaths before you get out of bed, and 10 before you fall asleep.

Learning how to breathe properly and incorporating this into your daily life has a great deal of power in shaping your overall wellbeing. It's such an important part of our lives, and breathwork is wonderfully simple - you don't need any equipment, there are no bells and whistles. And even just a few moments can change your day.

Benefits of breathwork

  1. Improve oxygenation - breathing slowly and deeply improves oxygen uptake. Adding an element of 'air hunger' to your breathwork boosts this even more! Don't be afraid to hold your breath.

  2. Reduce stress - activate the parasympathetic nervous system, create a feeling of calm, reduce the production of stress hormones (cortisol)

  3. Boost mental clarity and beat brain fog - this is a big one! How many of us struggle to focus or remember why we walked into a room or why the fridge door is open and we're stood in front of it? A calm nervous system, a well-oxygenated brain and relaxed body all boost your ability to focus

  4. Better lung function - you can strengthen the respiratory system and the muscles involved

  5. Calm the mind - breathing deeply helps silence racing thoughts and chattering minds

  6. Improve sleep

  7. Support the immune system

  8. Increase energy levels

  9. Regulate emotions

  10. Reduce lower back pain - the diaphragm is so often involved with lower back pain. Get it moving properly and efficiently, and you might be surprised at the result. Breathing properly also calms your nervous system, allowing it to reduce its pain output.

If you're interested in learning more about breathing, we host a monthly Breathwork session at the studio, the next one is 20th Jan at 2pm. The session is run by Natalie, an experienced breathwork facilitator.

And if you'd like to give yoga a try, please take a look at our offerings and book into a class. They're suitable for all levels, all genders and all ages (we even offer parent and child and family yoga pop ups!).

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