Lay down on your back, place one hand at the top of your chest and one hand below your belly button. Take a couple of breaths and pay attention to what the hand on your chest is doing. If you find that the hand on your chest is rising higher than the hand on your stomach this is a strong indicator of dysfunctional breathing, using the wrong muscles to breathe.
Our body is designed to use the diaphragm to breathe. The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that sits at the bottom of the rib cage and when contracted decreases the pressure in the chest allowing the lungs to expand. When the diaphragm is underused the body recruits other muscles to take on this job which is very inefficient and doesn’t allow us to take a full breath. This is like if you only fill your car with a quarter tank of petrol; you would be constantly going to the petrol station, causing you short-term stress due to labour and time, and in the long-term interfering with other aspects of your life. When you breathe with a dysfunctional pattern, your body has to work so hard to get enough oxygen it doesn’t leave enough energy for muscles to actually do what they are actually designed to do. This muscle compensation causes stress on the body leading to chronic pain, especially in the neck and shoulders, and puts our body at greater risk for injury and illness.
To improve your breathing pattern, you need to start using your diaphragm; this is commonly known as “diaphragmatic breathing” or “yoga breathing”. The best way to practice is on your back, laying down in a relaxed position. Place your hands on your stomach below your belly button. Practice breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, taking three seconds for each breath. Once the breath has slowed, focus on expanding your stomach against your hands so all the rise is in the stomach with no rise in the chest. You may start to feel lightheaded which is perfectly normal, it is the body experiencing a higher level of oxygen than it is used to receiving. Practice this for 5 minutes through the day and 5 minutes before bed to help relax your body, decrease stress, and optimise your energy.