Breathing: it’s automatic. But breathing correctly isn’t. And that can be a problem for those of us living with a mood or anxiety disorder. So maybe it’s time to get back to the basics…

’It’s believed most of us only use around one third of our lungs when we inhale, which can cause all sorts of health problems.’

If someone with, say, panic disorder came to me for help and the first thing out of my mouth was “Are you breathing correctly?” I might have to duck.

Fact is, though, some researchers believe those with panic disorder are chronic hyperventilators, so correct breathing is essential. Actually, it’s imperative for anyone on the mood and anxiety disorder side of the fence.

Tell you what, when getting into subjects out of one’s realm, it’s best to bring in the experts…

Introducing Meera Watts

Yoga for mental health

Meera Watts

Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur, and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared on popular websites, including Elephant Journal and OMTimes. Ms. Watts is the founder and owner of Siddhi Yoga International. She runs intensive residential trainings in India and Indonesia.

What you’re about to read is the bulk of one of Ms. Watts’ articles. And it includes a great video at the end.

I posted the original piece in 2018. The information is so strong I decided to rework it and bring it to you again. There’s a lot of info, so why not favorite or print the article for ongoing reference?

The floor’s yours, Ms. Watts…

Yoga breathing techniques for beginners

Breathing is an important part of everyday life. We need it to live and we need it in order for our brain to function properly.

Unfortunately, most people don’t breathe to their full lung capacity (5.8 L for males and 4.2 L for females). They also forget to breathe correctly all together.

There are breathing techniques that can help teach you not only to breathe properly, but also to use as much of your total breathing capacity as possible. They are yogic breathing techniques that are used within the practice.

Total breathing capacity

Total breathing capacity is the maximum amount of air that your lungs can hold when they are fully inflated. It is the inspiratory reserve volume, tidal volume, expiratory reserve volume, and residual volume all added up.

This can vary according to age, height, fitness level and where you live. People living at higher elevations need more oxygen for their bodies and brains to function properly.

  • Inspiratory Reserve Volume: The maximum amount of additional air that you can bring in after a normal inhalation
  • Tidal Volume: The volume of air that is moved in and out of your lungs during quiet breathing
  • Expiratory Reserve Volume: The maximum additional air that you can exhale from your lungs after a normal exhale
  • Residual Volume: The air that is still in your lungs after a full exhale

When we exercise, we need to breathe in more air, which increases our total breathing capacity. It can actually increase as much as 15% during exercise in order to meet metabolic rates that your body needs when it is exercising.

What is breathing?

Breathing is when we move air in and out of our lungs, bringing oxygen in and flushing carbon dioxide out.

Lungs can’t inflate by themselves, expanding only when there is an increase in the thoracic cavity. This is done through the diaphragm as well as the intercostal muscles.

When air fills the lungs, the diaphragm and rib cage expand, connecting them to the sternum, the cervical vertebrae and the base of the skull. During exhalation, all of the muscles relax and the chest and abdomen return to normal, or resting position.

Most people don’t even realise how they breathe, they just do. But if people actually stopped to think about how they were breathing they may realise that they are actually doing it all wrong. Meaning they are not breathing through the diaphragm and the rib cage.

Are you breathing correctly?

It’s believed most of us only use around one third of our lungs when we inhale, which can cause all sorts of health problems.

Not breathing fully can lead to us feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, and lethargic. It can also affect how we sleep.

We breathe around 20,000 times a day, which helps our nervous system, digestive system, muscles, immune system, and cardiovascular health.

Each time we exhale we push toxins out of our body and rid our lungs of carbon dioxide. But by not breathing correctly, we are keeping these toxins and excess carbon dioxide in our body.

Signs of not breathing correctly

Signs that you are not breathing correctly include…

  • Frequent yawning
  • Grinding your teeth in your sleep
  • Feeling tired and exhausted all of the time

Having a tight neck and shoulders is also a sign of incorrect breathing, as it means that you are shallow breathing. This causes the neck, shoulders, and back to overcompensate. In short, it means you are breathing through your upper chest, so your lungs aren’t reaching their total breathing capacity.

A great way to tell if you are breathing incorrectly is to pay attention to where you are breathing from. If you are breathing out of your mouth, then you are not breathing correctly. Breathing should always be done through the nose.

By not doing this, you could be altering your heart rate and blood pressure, and increasing your responses to stress.

Also check what your stomach is doing. When most people inhale, their stomach deflates, while inflating on the exhale. When breathing correctly the opposite should happen.

How to breathe

As mentioned above, the best way to breathe and increase your oxygen intake is to breathe through your nose. This will also increase your Total Breathing Capacity and allow toxins and carbon dioxide to be released from your body.

Thoracic breathing

This is the action of breathing through your chest. You draw air into your chest using your intercostal muscles. Breathing into the chest allows your lungs to be fully inflated, freeing the joints in your neck, upper back, and ribs.

With thoracic breathing, you are not breathing through the diaphragm and filling up your lungs, everything stays within the chest. The rib cage and chest widen and lift up on the inhale, and go back down on the exhale.

Place the palms of your hands on your back or on your rib cage and try breathing through the back and sides of the rib cage through your nose. Feel your rib cage expand and lift up as you inhale, and close and go down as you exhale.

Abdominal breathing

As the name suggests, abdominal breathing is breathing through the stomach, using the muscles of the abdominal wall. This is also known as diaphragmatic breathing, and is done by contracting the diaphragm.

As air enters the lungs the belly expands and then goes back down on the exhale. It massages the internal organs, can help relieve lower back pain and is great for the immune system and digestive system. It also helps with stress, anxiety, and high blood pressure. Doctors are now using it to help patients as a relaxation technique.

When you practice abdominal breathing, as you inhale your stomach inflates like a balloon and deflates as you exhale. It can be practiced while sitting or can be done laying down on your back.

Friendly breathing

This is the combination of both thoracic and abdominal breathing. It is how everyone should be breathing on a regular basis to ensure maximum health and Total Breathing Capacity. It is the correct way to breathe to release as many toxins and as much carbon dioxide as possible out of the body. This is the way that your body wants to breathe for maximum health and stamina.

It takes time to teach your body to breathe this way, especially after not breathing like this for so many years. The more you practice, the more your body will adjust and get used to it. Eventually, this is how you will always breathe automatically.

And there you have it. Thank you, Ms. Watts.

Here’s the video I mentioned…

Yoga for Beginners - Breathing Techniques - Thoracic, Abdominal & Friendly Breathing by Yogi Sandeep

Get back to the basics

Breathing is automatic.

The bad news is those of us with mood and anxiety disorders add to our burdens by not doing it correctly. The good news is we can do something about it.

Get back to the basics.

Again, a big thanks to Meera Watts. Be sure to read her full article, Yogic Breathing: Yoga for Breathing Techniques for Beginners. While you’re there, why not do some browsing?

And don’t forget to review the hundreds of Chipur mood and anxiety disorder info and inspiration titles.

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