Chances are you're breathing wrong. Do it better with these tips from a breathing coach to professional fighters, SWAT team members, and special ops.
By Katie Macdonald
You've been breathing since birth. How bad can your technique possibly be?
Pretty bad, actually, says NYC-based clinical psychologist and breathing expert Dr. Belisa Vranich. A combination of poor posture and stress keeps many people from efficiently pulling in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide, increasing stress and shoulder pain and decreasing endurance. This week, Vranich, who has trained SWAT teams, special forces members and professional fighters in breathing techniques, visited the set of the Most Useful Podcast Ever to show the staff how to better fill their lungs. Here's what she had to say.
1. FIGURE OUT HOW BAD IT IS
Changing the way you breathe can be difficult, so Vranich recommends measuring what you're missing with each breath as a place to start. Wrap a measuring tape about an inch below your sternum and exhale fully. Measure the circumference with your lungs empty (LungsEmpty). Now take a breath and make the same measurement (LungsFull). The chest of a person who is breathing correctly should expand by 10 percent of its empty circumference. So if your empty measurement is 35, your full measurement shouldn't be less than 38½. A simple equation to figure out where you stand is this:
(LungsFull – LungsEmpty) / (.1 * LungsEmpty)
The result is the percent of your full lung capacity you're actually using. If it's less than 100, you'll want to work on it.
2. BREATHE IN TO YOUR BEER GUT
Chances are that when you take a deep breath, you're using the wrong part of your body. Lifting your shoulders, or breathing vertically, only fills the top part of your lungs, which is inefficient. Worse, your shoulders aren't designed for breathing, so they'll get sore and tired. Instead, breathe horizontally, into the space below your ribcage. This type of breathing recruits the diaphragm, and can net you 8 to 10 times more air. To see the difference, place one hand on your stomach and another on your chest. Your lower hand should move with each breath, while the top hand should be still.
3. OUT IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS IN
Depending how lazily you exhale, twenty to thirty percent of the air in your lungs—or more—might remain there in between breaths, getting stale, reducing available space, and screwing up the balance of oxygen to carbon dioxide in your blood. Train yourself to exhale more completely by flexing your core at the end of each breath to push more air out. Even if you only breathe fully a few times a day, your breathing muscles will get stronger and you'll feel more relaxed. Bonus: You might get nicer abs, too.
4. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP THE MOUTHBREATHING
You might be ready to kill your noisy coworker who breathes through his mouth, but the real danger is in the air. Your nose is designed to act as a natural humidifier and filtering system before air reaches your lungs. When you breathe with your mouth, germs and bacteria can enter directly into your body, giving you a greater risk of getting sick. So even if you're taking larger breaths, use your nose. Your body—and friends—will thank you.