BY BRENNAN KILBANE
Are you doing anything right now? Of course you’re not—you’re reading wellness articles on the Internet. Why don’t you take a moment out of your rigorous afternoon of self-improvement and indulge in a long, deep breath? Inhale for six whole seconds, expel that air, and record, very specifically, what your body is doing while this is happening. Do your chest and shoulders rise up to your chin? Does your gut buckle in a little bit on the inhale, pressing against your abdominal wall? If so, congratulations: You are a vertical breather! You are also doing it very, very wrong.
This is the information Dr. Belisa Vranich delivered unto me one day, in a sparsely decorated rent-a-room near Madison Square Park. She's an expert on how to breath right. Using a tape measure, Dr. Vranich recorded my girth at the crest and trough of my breathing pattern. Then she scribbled some figures on a sheet of paper and typed a ratio into her calculator. 29.99 (repeating) was my score. That translates to a 29% on my Breathing Test, which is a failing grade. I would have performed better if I had not breathed at all.
Dr. Vranich, a self-minted Breathing Instructor, got her doctorate in child psychology from NYU, and this is the least of her accomplishments. During the course of our hour-and-a-half long meeting, which was surreally transformative, she casually makes reference to about six thousand jobs she’s had in her lifetime. Jobs which include: Health and Sex Editor at Men’s Fitness. Director of Public Education at the Mental Health Association of NYC. Director of something else for Gold’s Gym that I can’t remember, but it was very impressive and eminent in the field. At our meeting she wore gold hoops and a “Dr. Belisa” branded tee. Her voice—affectionate and deep—lulled me into a fugue state of blind faith within 15 minutes of meeting her, as she informed me that I had spent about 20 years of my life breathing incorrectly.
According to Dr. Vranich, we are all born with proper breathing habits, and we amble through the first five or so years of our lives inhaling and exhaling with proper form. But after that, as we start to bear the physical and emotional burdens of maturity, our breathing changes. We become anxious, pulling tension into our shoulders. We suck in our stomachs, acutely aware of how others perceive us. Before long, we are taking shorter, less substantial breaths from our chest—the habit quickly becomes second-nature. Almost like breathing.
But a small comfort: According to Dr. Vranich, 9.5/10 people are just like you and I—wrong. We breathe up-and-down, like actors of Claritin commercials. When we inhale, our shoulders lift away from our anatomical center, where breath belongs. Proper breath is horizontal; it happens at the belly, and engages our diaphragm, a “frisbee-sized flank steak”—this is a metaphor Dr. Vranich is fond of—that bisects our torso. If you breathe vertically, you ignore your diaphragm, which sits directly between your heart and your gut. When it’s moving, everything else is happy. When it’s not, problems arise. Nothing here is particularly life-threatening—vertical breathing is not a chronic condition that threatens your existence—but it has been linked to high blood pressure, digestive problems, back pain, and general stress. And its antidote is simple: An hour with Dr. Vranich.
Dr. Vranich’s clientele includes MMA fighters and professional singers, magazine editors and golf celebrities—plus regular celebrities, I think, although she wouldn’t confirm. Her life’s work exists at the apex of stress reduction and performance enhancement, which is why the Department of Homeland Security is a client. During goofy, emotional one-on-one sessions, Dr. Vranich will change the way you breathe forever. When you leave, everything changes, and I am not being dramatic—your posture, your gait, the way you speak, the flow of oxygen to your brain is slightly, but perceptibly different.