Along with blood oxygenation and respiratory function, deep breathing serves to stretch major and intrinsic muscle groups in the back, chest, shoulders, neck and trunk.
Inhalation involves the expansion of the lungs and rib cage, which literally creates a vacuum into which air flows. To inhale deeply, the abdomen pushes outward (as if trying to create a more rounded stomach) which effectively drops the diaphragm and moves the internal organs so that your lungs can hold a larger volume.
Exhalation is the compression of the lungs using the rib cage and connected rib, back, neck, and abdominal musculature. To fully exhale, the belly button is drawn inwards – the reverse of the rounded stomach effect created for inhalation. To further tighten the abdominal musculature and curl slightly forward at the spine will then literally compress the air out of the lungs.
1) Notice your natural breathing cycle
Notice the pace, depth and volume of your breath in its natural state. Understand its basic rhythm and recognise that this is your average from which you will increase or decrease.
2) Inhale fully
Preferably through the nose with a closed mouth, inhale as much air into your lungs as you can. Once you’ve reached your maximum, attempt to gasp in just a little bit more air. Again, at full capacity, make a mental note of the expansion you feel through your ribs and the volume of your lungs. Notice how a full inhalation naturally straightens a seated or standing posture.
3) Exhale fully
Preferably through open but relaxed mouth and lips, exhale the entire volume of your lungs. Then, by clenching the muscles around your ribs and abdomen, attempt to compress your lungs even further into the exhalation and take note of the tension you feel in your chest, abdomen and upper and lower back.
If you are just getting started with breathing exercises, spend 20 to 30 seconds simply inhaling fully and exhaling fully. Then spend another 30 or 40 seconds breathing normally, giving your circulatory system a chance to catch up so that you don’t hyperventilate. Repeat this procedure for five to 10 minutes.
NB: It is very normal to feel mild light-headedness when first attempting active breathing. This response will subside with practice. Any dizziness should wane quickly. If it doesn’t, stop the exercise immediately and seek professional attention.
As you become more adept at recognising the reactions your body has to deep breathing, you will require less rest between active breathing bouts. You may also seek to expand (through inhalation) or contract (through exhalation) certain parts of your trunk, including the lower ribs, collar bones, shoulder blades, mid-spine and posterior rib junctions.
Austin Gregory Johns is president and head biomechanical specialist for the San Clemente Health & Fitness Network in Southern California. SCHFN is committed to the highest quality health, exercise, nutrition, and relaxation protocol for adults, teens, athletes, and orthopedic recovery. www.schfninc.com
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Fitness Professionals Ltd or Virtual Magazine. Consult a qualified health or fitness professional before making changes to your diet or exercise.