Take a deep breath. Seriously, do it. Feels good, right? But it could probably feel better. And do more for your body and mind. If when you take that deep inhale, you feel your shoulders and chest rise up, you're breathing "vertically." And, you really don't want to do that. But you're not alone. Most of us take short, vertical breaths because anxiety and stress pulls tension up into our shoulders. We tend to suck in our stomachs in order to look leaner. We focus on other things, never bringing attention to our breathing patterns and this all adds up to quick, shallow inhales from our chest.
It's estimated that the average man uses a mere 50 to 60 percent of his lung capacity. Thankfully, you can train your breath and easily expand your lungs. The result is better oxygen intake which can unleash your body's true potential. That means lower stress, greater overall health and better performance—at the gym, in bed and at work.
To get the most from each inhale and exhale you take, you want to breath deeply. Deep breathing also goes by such names as diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing and belly breathing. When you breathe through your diaphragm, the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs, and the lower belly rises. This focused breathing encourages a full oxygen exchange which relaxes the body, slows your heartbeat and stabilizes your blood pressure. Here are three simple exercises that may feel a bit strange at first, but will have you feeling superhuman in no time.
Your Lung Capacity
This opens up your lungs and maximizes your oxygen input to give you better mental clarity and athletic performance.
What to Do
Sit comfortably and place one hand on your chest and take a deep breath into your hand. Now place your other hand at your stomach's base and take a deep breath. Breathe in slowly through your nose and focus on getting your stomach to push your hand up while your chest remains still. Repeat for six breaths, then combine the chest and belly breaths together. Imagine you're pouring water into a glass. You want the glass to fill up starting from the bottom of your belly (the diaphragm) up to the top of your chest.
You're actually able to stimulate and activate the two hemispheres of your brain through conscious breathing. Yogis have long expounded the benefits of alternate nostril breathing, and scientific studies are proving its efficacy. This technique allows you to optimize both sides of your brain so you can access your whole brain, and all the benefits that go with it. For instance, when you're feeling drowsy, you can cover your left nostril with your thumb and breathe only through your right nostril for one minute. You'll notice a boost in alertness.
What to Do
Make the phone gesture with your right hand. Press your thumb against your right nostril to close it and inhale slowly through your left nostril. Pause for a second. Then release your right nostril and press your pinky against your left nostril to close it. Exhale slowly through your right nostril. Now inhale through your right nostril and repeat by alternating the sequence.
Release Stress and Tension
Regular day-to-day events like job pressure, traffic and financial worries often initiate the body's stress response. This exercise lowers your heart rate and eases tension so it's helpful during anxiety-inducing situations.
What to Do
Take a deep, slowly inhale through your nose. Hold it in for three seconds, then, placing your top front teeth on your bottom lip, slowly let the air pass through your teeth in a long, passive exhale. This ideally should take at least twice as long as your inhale. At the bottom of the exhale, pause for a moment, take a normal breath and then repeat. Do this at least three times.