What is something you already do more than 20,000 times a day that could help you feel calmer and more vital if you did it more deliberately?
Most of us don’t pay much attention to how we breathe because it happens automatically. We don’t have to think about it. It’s only when we’re out of breath or when our partners wake us up in the middle of the night because we’re snoring so loudly that the act of breathing gets our attention.
The reality is that most of us are breathing all wrong—with our mouths open and without any intention or awareness, according to James Nestor, author of the fascinating book, Breath. Mouth breathing, he explains, undermines health and our ability to manage stress. In addition to limiting the amount of oxygen we draw into our lungs, breathing through the mouth instead of the nose contributes to periodontal disease (it is the number one cause of cavities, more damaging than sugar) bad breath, high blood pressure, and also worsens snoring and sleep apnea.
Sometimes when we’re preoccupied or multi-tasking we forget to breathe. A survey found that 80 percent of us hold our breath or breathe shallowly when reading and responding to emails or texts. Writer Linda Stone calls this “email apnea” though “screen apnea” might be a better term for it because it also occurs when we’re scrolling through social media, watching the news, and checking Twitter. It’s highly likely that you’re holding your breath as you read this.
Being more deliberate about how you breathe has immeasurable benefits for mental and physical health. Even slight adjustments to the way you inhale and exhale can transform your mood, focus, perception of stress, and energy level. Over the long term, how you breathe impacts weight, sleep, anxiety, and cardiovascular health. Nestor shows how breathing correctly can even improve appearance by adding definition to your jawline (think Maria Shriver) and eliminating sagging jowls. Indeed, there are many reasons to pay attention to this unappreciated and undervalued bodily function.
Here is my favorite breathing exercise. It’s so simple. No fancy equipment, clothing, or accessories needed. The best part is you can do it right now:
1. Sit up straight
2. Relax your shoulders
3. Close your mouth
4. Inhale softly through your nose for 5.5 seconds, expanding the belly
5. Exhale softly for 5.5 seconds through your nose, bringing the belly in as the lungs empty
Each breath should feel like a wave washing over you and receding back into the ocean.
Repeat 10 times.
Avoid mouth-breathing as much as you can. Make a conscious effort to breathe slowly and through the nose with long exhales.