Are you breathing properly?
Copyright 2005 David Kane
Most people become lousy at breathing. Our bodies are
naturally designed to breathe properly, but we tend to
override this advantage with bad breathing habits. Your
shoulders should not lift. Your chest should not stiffen.
Your stomach should not push out as you exhale. If you
breathe in more than sixteen times a minute your breathing
is too rapid and too shallow.
The rib cage and the diaphragm are the main parts of the
body involved in inhaling and exhaling. You can feel your
rib cage, but you are probably unaware of your diaphragm.
The diaphragm is a thick layer of muscle between the lungs
and the intestines. When you breathe in it contracts,
pulling downward on the chest cavity and pressing down on
the stomach and intestines. When you exhale it relaxes.
Do you use your diaphragm correctly when you breathe? Try
this exercise to find out. Lie on your back with your right
hand resting on your upper chest, and your left hand on
your abdomen. Relax for a while until your breathing
becomes normal then notice what your hands are doing. When
you breathe in your left hand should rise and your right
hand should remain fairly still.
Breathing is also important because it can produce a
calming effect when we feel anxious. Deep breathing is
accepted as a way to calm nerves in many situations. Even
professionals use the technique before stepping on stage or
standing up for a speech.
Try the following next time you feel yourself becoming
Breathe in for a count of one, and then breathe out for a
count of one.
Breathe in for a count of two, and then out for a count of
Breathe in for a count of three, and then out for a count
Continue until you are breathing in for a count of twelve,
and out for a count of twelve. Keep the counting at a
constant rhythm. If you cannot comfortably reach twelve do
not strain yourself to reach this figure. Inhale and exhale
for as long as you find comfortable and do not hold your
breath to complete the count. During this exercise focus on
how your body expands and relaxes as you breathe in and
out. More oxygen will reach your brain as you do the
exercise, making your mind sharper and making you feel
refreshed and relaxed.
Most of us could improve our breathing but our tendency to
breathe too rapidly and too shallow becomes exaggerated
when a person suffers an asthma attack. If you suffer from
asthma try to resist the urge to gasp for breath during an
attack, and focus on remaining calm and breathing out as
fully as you can. Your inhale will follow naturally. Also
concentrate on breathing slowly. This is much easier to do
if you practiced when you were not having an attack.
Try the following exercises when you are feeling well. If
you are healthy they will improve your breathing technique.
If you suffer from asthma they will help you exhale
correctly during an asthma attack.
1. Hum as you exhale slowly, trying to prolong the breath
without straining. Then repeat, but this time make a
buzzing sound. Notice when the sound changes and when you
become breathless. Stop breathing for a moment then breathe
in gently. If you need to gasp for breath you are trying
2. Breathe in, purse your lips then breathe out in a series
of little puffs. Work against the pressure of your lips and
cheeks, contracting the abdomen not the chest as you blow.
3. Blow out an imaginary candle. Again your abdomen not
your chest should contract as you blow. Your attempts to
blow out the candle should be fairly quiet. You should be
breathing in naturally at the end of the blow. Repeat as
many times as is comfortable but stop if you begin to feel
We take over ten thousand breaths a day, drawing in about
half a liter of air with each one. You can improve this
essential act with just a few simple exercises. Try the
above and learn to breathe properly.
David Kane is the author of ‘101 Top Tips for Asthma
Relief’, which gives more ways to control asthma. This and
other resources designed to help asthma sufferers monitor
and control their condition are available at