10 tips to help you breathe better

Feeling like you are not breathing well can be frightening and stressful. Fortunately breathing exercises and lifestyle changes can help you breathe more deeply, calm you down and restore your natural breathing.

If you’re breathing effectively your breath will be smooth and steady, you should feel relaxed and as though you are getting enough air without straining. In other words, breathing should feel easy and your breath should be quiet. Your abdomen area should expand with each inhalation and contract with each exhalation, you should also feel your ribs expand to the front, sides and back with each inhalation.

The diaphragm is your principal muscle of breathing. A dome-shaped muscle located in the torso just below your lungs, it separates your thoracic cavity from your abdominal cavity. Your diaphragm contracts when you inhale, pushing down into the abdominal area and lifting the lower ribs, this creates space in your chest allowing your lungs to expand into it. The intercostal muscles also help to create space in your chest by expanding your rib cage.

Breathing affects every system in the human body and learning to breathe better will help you live better, and longer.  To help you on your journey to better breathing and optimal wellbeing, we have compiled a list of practical tips you can use to help you improve your quality of breathing and life.

1. Exercise regularly

Cardiovascular exercise is essential to improve your respiratory health and practiced regularly it will improve your physical fitness, which in turn helps you breathe easier. At least 30 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise 6 days a week will help you get fit. You can try going for a brisk walk, running, using an elliptical, riding your bicycle, swimming, taking a dance class or joining a sports team.

2. Adjust your sleeping position

Sleeping on your side with your head elevated by pillows and a pillow between your legs helps keep your spine aligned, which in turn helps to keep your airways open and may prevent snoring.  You can also sleep on your back with bent knees, placing a pillow under your head and your knees – this is not recommended if you have sleep apnea or you snore as it may cause your tongue to block your breathing tube. If you have trouble breathing while you’re sleeping prop yourself up on a pillow – this will take some of the pressure off your lungs so you can breathe better while you sleep.

3. Diet and weight control

Eat nutritious foods – including foods rich in antioxidants – to help heal a leaky gut. If you’re sensitive to a food in your diet it may cause holes in your intestines that allow bacteria and food particles to escape into your body. This triggers inflammation and illness in your body as it tries to fight off the invaders. The inflammation can cause breathing issues and allergies. To help you heal, do an elimination diet to improve your gut health.

It is also important to maintain a healthy weight to avoid breathing difficulties caused by excess fat, which prevents your lungs from expanding properly. As you gain weight, fat begins to accumulate in your chest and your abdomen, as the amount of fat continues to grow it becomes more difficult for your lungs to expand fully when you breathe in. This can result in the lower portion of your lungs collapsing as they cannot expand fully.

4. Improve indoor air quality

Unfortunately, the air inside your home may be full of air pollutants which irritate your lungs and making it hard for you to breathe well. Luckily, indoor air filters can help filter out pollutants so you can breathe easier. Use HEPA filters to improve the air quality in your home or try an air filter fan to improve the air quality.

Other ways to improve the quality of air in your home include cleaning your home often to prevent the build-up of dust and mould, avoiding the use of candles and incense, and purchasing indoor plants which act as air filters.  You can also avoid perfumes, colognes and air fresheners and pick fragrance-free personal care products and cleaners.

5. Practice good posture

Practicing good posture helps to ensure that your chest and the thoracic region of your spine are able to fully expand – your rib cage and diaphragm will also be able to fully expand and increase the range of motion on the front side of your body.  Poor posture compresses your lungs and airways, making it harder for you to breathe. Improve your posture by straightening your spine when you’re sitting or standing, roll your shoulders back and tilt your chin up. Look in the mirror to check out your posture and practice standing or sitting up straight until it feels natural to you.

6. Limit your exposure to air pollution

Check levels of outdoor air pollution regularly and avoid outdoor activity when pollution levels are high – we breathe more often and more deeply when we exercise.  You can also prioritise walking, cycling and public transport over using your personal car in urban areas and make the shift to an electric car if it’s essential to your daily life.

7. Meditate

Practice meditation regularly. This can be as simple as taking the time to focus on your breath without trying to control it. Added benefits of meditation include mental clarity, peace of mind and less stress.

8. Sing it out

Singing helps people with lung conditions by teaching them to breathe more slowly and deeply as well as strengthening the breathing muscles. The British Lung Foundation recommends singing to enhance your ability to breathe, help to improve your posture, and increase the strength of your voice and diaphragm.

9. Stretch and flex

Practices like Yoga and Pilates focus on flexibility, resistance and stretching to improve posture and relieve any tightness in your shoulders, chest, and back. These exercises assist you in fully expanding your ribcage in all directions when you breathe. It’s also a good idea to engage in activities that keep you active such as swimming, rowing, or running or to go for massages to help loosen up areas of tension.

10. Stop smoking

If you smoke, taking the decision to quit is one of the most important things you can do for your wellbeing. Recovery from nicotine addiction can be difficult. Ironically, deep breathing can be an invaluable tool to help you manage withdrawal from nicotine and relax you at the same time.

Feeling like you can’t breathe well can be frightening and stressful. The lifestyle changes recommended in this article will improve your breathing and practiced regularly, breathing exercises can help you breathe more deeply, calm down and restore your natural breathing mechanism.

At Breath Evolution, our courses incorporate the teaching of breathing techniques based in pranayama, to achieve specific health and wellness goals.

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