Our bodies may require different types of breathing for different activities. You may breathe heavily during an intense exercise, using different areas of your lungs, while your breaths may be calm and even as you read a book.
Ideally, we should inhale and exhale through the nose during our daily activities. The nose is the organ that’s specific to inhalation, exhalation, and smell. Usually, the air around us is either colder than our body temperature or too dry for our respiratory tract or lungs, which is why the tissue in our nose is covered with wet mucus. This mucus is necessary to keep unwanted bacteria, dust, pollen, or any other type of particles and organisms from entering the body. Also, while passing through the nose and respiratory tract, the outer air gets warmer and wetter.
Sometimes, we use our mouth to breathe as well. It’s not healthy to inhale through the mouth all the time, however it can be useful in some situations. For instance, it’s not always possible to get the necessary amount of air through the nose when doing a cardio exercise or climbing stairs so you may unconsciously open your mouth to breathe.
The way we inhale may define where we feel the breath most. If you open your mouth slightly and let the breath out very slowly with a hissing sound, you may notice a softening along your upper chest, for example.
That’s why variations in speed, form, or the organ used during inhalation and exhalation are valid in all types of breathing exercises. You may make use of these different kinds of breaths for different states or activities.
During the day, most of us are working. Maybe that means we’re at a computer typing, calculating something, or communicating via video calls. Or, perhaps we’re chasing after children or teaching a class. Or maybe you work on creative projects that require you to design, draw or compose. Sometimes we have tough work to do, strict deadlines, or hard conversations to get through.
To navigate our day more at peace, you could try some breathing exercises or meditations during the day. What’s more important is being able to realize how you breathe within these situations and how you can regulate your breathing if need be. Our breathing pattern is a reflection of our nervous system. When you find yourself taking shallow breaths, not getting enough oxygen, or not releasing the air properly, you may find that your thoughts are scattered all over the place. Maybe you’re stressed or anxious.
To develop the ability of instant breath awareness, doing regular mindfulness practices is the key. Keeping a focused mind is tough and all types of jobs have their own hardships and challenges, but hopefully these steps can help you navigate them more easily:
When you need a clear sense of focus, the first thing to do is balance your breath. My advice is to start the day off with breathing exercises like Box Breathing or Nadi Shodhana. If you can’t fit those into your morning routine or don’t prefer to do it so early, you can practice them anytime during the day.
Try to take a couple of mindfulness breaks every day. For instance, you can set three breaks within the day: one in the morning, another one at the beginning or at the end of your lunch break, and one in the afternoon. Either set an alarm for certain times or choose an object or an event to link it to your practice. It could be something like “I will take a break when I get up from the table for a coffee,” or, “I will take a break when I look at this red object on my desk”.
During those breaks, set an intention to observe your breaths for a couple of minutes. Check in with yourself to see how your body is feeling, how you’re breathing, and try to name the emotions and feelings that come up for you. It may go like “My shoulder feels tight,” or, “My body feels energized today,” or, “I’m on edge today.”
These breaks are like working out your “physical awareness” muscle. It’s like training yourself to enable this awareness all the time, even as you’re doing other activities.
As you continue practicing meditation or breathing exercises as routine, also try and notice your breathing in random moments, especially if you realize your thoughts are all over the place or if you’re feeling stuck.
You may have experienced moments when you exhale with a “puff” sound through your mouth. This is a reflex that happens when we’ve been holding our breath for a time and usually happens when we’re stressed and almost forget to breathe.
Try to catch these kinds of unusual breathing patterns or irregularities and notice your thoughts and feelings. Is there any connection between them?
Whenever you see any irregularities in your breath or you lose your attention or focus, you can always use pranayama to regulate and center yourself!
My advice is to apply the “Neutral breath” method as it’s the simplest. Basically, you exhale for twice the length of your inhale. For example, you start by inhaling to the count of 4 and exhaling to the count of 8. This is the simplest practice you can do even just as a 2-minute escape from work.
If you have more time and if you’ve practiced before, you can convert this practice into 4-7-8 breath by adding the 7 second breath hold in between your inhale and exhale.
Another option is just to sit comfortably and start taking deep, long breaths. Try to expand your ribcage in every direction, filling your tummy with your inhale very slowly, then releasing your breath very slowly and gently.
If you’re navigating heated meetings, and tight deadlines, and feel burnt out, you can also try Ujjayi breathing.
Different types of exercises require different kinds of breathing. There are some breathworks you can practice before you start any physical activity, especially the more intense ones to help you increase your performance and boost your energy. Just as you warm up the muscles before you start exercising, you can warm up your circulatory system with intentional breathing as well.
To start a workout session, try Bhastrika, Kapalabhati or any of these energy boosting breathing exercises. Another option is to try the Wim Hof Breathing Method, which can add to your stamina and instantly increase your energy. It’s best to include it in your life regularly but why not use it as a pre-exercise routine?
During your workout, however, how you should breathe depends on the type of activity. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Yoga practices require you to take long deep breaths through your nose, often releasing them through the nose again. Except for the special pranayamas, you should try to maintain this kind of breathing pattern.
In more intense practices like Ashtanga Yoga or Power Yoga classes, you may need to practice Ujjayi Breathing as it brings more oxygen into your body. You can always ask for guidance and instruction from your yoga instructor as well.
Additionally, whatever you do as flexion in yogic practice requires exhalation. So, as you bend or fold over yourself, you exhale whereas when you’re extending or stretching yourself up and out, you should inhale. Imagine yourself in a fetal position: Knees to the chest, hands and feet in close, chin to chest and so on. This position means all your joints are flexed. So, when you’re folding forward you’re in flexion and when you open your chest up, it’s considered an extension.
The logic is: open up and breathe in, close up and exhale out!
Intense forms of training often have a higher impact on our cardiovascular system. The body requires lots of oxygen when you do something that increases your heart rate a lot. So, nose breathing might not be enough to get the necessary oxygen and you may realize that you begin breathing through your mouth unintentionally.
The thing is, it’s normal to breathe heavily through your mouth while doing cardio, running, or training with weights. The important point is to try to inhale through the nose as much as possible.
You can also try different forms of exhalations to give you more strength and stamina. To do this, try breathing out with a rounded mouth with a “huh” or “puff” sound instead of an open mouth and a “haa” sound.
In Pilates, you typically inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth with sharp releases, especially in exercises like the “pump” and “hundred.”
It’s like finding a kind of force through the movement of exhalation. To be able to do it, you need to learn how to use your core muscles, always preserving your posture.
Pregnancy is a very exceptional bodily state for those who have a uterus. All hormones work in different ways and in the advanced stages of pregnancy there’s usually extra weight and volume within the body!
So, naturally, the way you breathe changes during pregnancy.
In the very early stages of a pregnancy, the hormone progesterone rapidly increases and with that increase you may see an increased breathing pattern. You might experience this like a shortness of breath. Relax, it is not! It’s just your body trying to adapt your system to a much higher capacity of oxygen since there’s extra needed for the baby. That said, some people don’t notice significant changes in their breathing during the first months.
If you do notice a change, try focusing on diaphragmatic breathing. You’ll start by widening your rib cage as much as possible. If that feels tricky, work on your chest, shoulder, and back mobility to gently remove obstacles so you can take bigger breaths.
In the later months, the baby gets bigger. Your uterus gradually takes up more room in your belly. So, you may feel pressure in the lungs and and against the diaphragm and you might experience shortness of breath more often. In your daily life try to take deep, calming breaths and don’t forget to support your spine as much as possible. If you feel the pressure while moving, walking, climbing stairs, and so on, you can try elongating your exhalation by letting the breath out like a whistle.
Around the 31st to 34th week of pregnancy, the uterus begins to press on the diaphragm, so there’s less room for your lungs to expand. You can practice ujjayi breath, if it’s comfortable for you, in order to soften and expand the chest. From those weeks on, it might be harder for you to do the diaphragmatic breathing.
Toward the end of your pregnancy, you might feel more at ease in your breathing since your baby settles deeper into the pelvic floor to prepare for birth. In these last week you can try practicing deep breathing by creating more room in your upper torso.
Always try to sit or stand up straight so that you don’t restrict your chest. Lift your arms over your head. This will help take pressure off your rib cage so you can breathe in more air. Slow down as much as possible. When you move more slowly, less oxygen is required for your body to move so the heart and the lungs can be more at ease.
Additionally, you don’t want to forget to support your body during sleep. Don’t hesitate to use as many pillows as you need to get into the most comfortable position for easy, calm, and flowing breaths.
We’re asleep for almost a third of our lives and because it’s such a big part of our lives, we need to pay attention to how we’re sleeping.
I can’t stress enough how important the proper breath is for a good night’s sleep. When I say “proper breathing”, that includes:
If you have chronic respiratory issues like allergies or sinusitis, you might be suffering from excessive mucus in your nose and postnasal-drip. So, the first thing you can do is try eliminating all allergens from your life, especially in your bedroom. Pay careful attention to your mattress and bedding materials and to properly get rid of any dust.
You can also try to form a habit of cleaning your nose. Yogis often have turn to the ritual of the “Neti-Pot”. This is the name of a special pot for cleaning the nose canal with salted water. You can either acquire one of those or use nasal-cleaning kits from pharmacies.
Flushing out the dust, bacteria, and excessive mucus regularly may help to ease your symptoms and breathe easier, especially if you’re dealing with allergies.
You can do this cleaning in the morning or before going to sleep, whatever’s most comfortable for you.
You should choose your pillow and mattress carefully so that you can find the best sleeping position for your body. There’s no ideal sleeping position, however, try to avoid sleeping on your tummy as much as possible.
Tummy sleeping can not only be harmful for your spine and digestive system but it also decreases the quality of your breathing by misaligning your respiratory organs, putting pressure on your ribcage. So, find the best position for relaxed breathing and arrange your favorite pillows as you wish!
Without clean, fresh air, other adjustments might not work for you. Make sure to ventilate your room before you sleep. Depending on the weather conditions you can even crack the window open all night.
If the air is polluted where you live, you may consider having a plant in your bedroom. Not all the plants are good to put where you sleep since they may release carbon dioxide during the night. You can consult your local florist shop or do your own research to determine which plants might be best suited to your environment. Our green friends are always there to help clean the air!
These steps are key for a proper sleeping breath!
Your “proper” sleeping breath should be like a baby’s. A soft chest, soft tummy, and shorter inhalations and exhalations.
During the night, our body operates at the bare minimum in terms of its systems. We don’t move or think much, so less oxygen is needed. A sleeping breath is shallow and calm. It’s not possible to control how you breathe during the night I know, but you can do the necessary work to prepare the optimum conditions. For example, if you have the tendency to turn on your tummy, try arranging your pillows to prevent yourself from turning.
If you have trouble getting to sleep, you can try one of the relaxing breathing exercises prior to going to bed.