Embarrassing to admit but this thought hascrossed my mind. It has even stopped me from breathing properly at times. This feels incredibly shallow to admit … but I know I’m in good company. Especially among women.
We start off breathing correctly as babies. Watch a baby sleeping sometime and you’ll see what I mean. The belly rises on the inhale and lowers on the exhale, over and over.
As we grow up, however, we for some reason get out of that pattern and our breathing changes to mainly chest breathing. With chest breathing, our chests expand and our shoulders rise as we inhale and the opposite happens when we exhale.
Our bellies? Well, they stay as sucked in as possible. Totally different than when we were little.
The end result? Two totally different types of breathing with two totally different physiological experiences. Important to note that both types do keep us alive. However, if we were to keep breathing as we did when we were babies we’d be so much healthier than we are today. Physically, mentally and emotionally. To highlight my point here’s what Dr. Andrew Weil says on the topic.
“If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip,” says Dr. Andrew Weil, “it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.”
What thuh?!? Yes, you read that right. Breathing correctly would be the single most pivotal improvement, the biggest domino effect, the greatest…well you get my point.
Why do we change our breathing from those glory days of belly-breathing babyhood? Do we consciously choose looks over health? It’s tempting to blame the patriarchy or curse the beauty industry but that doesn’t help us. So, let’s just chalk it up to bad posture, sitting too much and ignorance. Because it doesn’t really matter why we are breathing this way.
What does matter is that when we know better we do better.
Bottom line one of the biggest reasons to switch to belly breaths is to give our nervous systems a break. When we breathe from what feels like lower down in our bellies, it informs our parasympathetic nervous system that we are safe and can relax. Chest breathing, because it typically is shorter and shallower, constantly signals to our nervous system that we are ready to respond to whatever fire needs to be put out. Additionally, with shorter shallower chest breaths we aren’t getting the full O2 inhalation and pushing out all the CO2 that our bodies need to thrive.
Mentally, this chest breathing pattern has the additional effect of contributing to anxious and worried thoughts, feeling edgy and just all around unsettled. Weird that our breath can directly impact our thoughts but it can!
Check your breathing right now. Are you a chest breather?
If the answer is yes, there is good news. Changing your breathing pattern is totally within your power and probably the easiest way to improve your health and mental wellbeing!
Try this. Every time you walk through a door, use that as a cue to shift your breathing to your belly. Once you have this down, see if you can find other cues to help you make this breathing shift. Over time you’ll find you are doing this as your new default.
Two of the biggest improvements:
Getting in the habit of breathing deep, rhythmic belly breaths can calm you by helping keep your O2 and CO2 in the perfect balance and reduce the times your body thinks there’s a “problem”.
It can improve your physical health by counteracting the wear and tear of stress by increasing the times your cortisol can stay in it’s place and take a break.
So, does proper breathing make my stomach look fat? With my mental and physical well-being at stake from improper breathing I have to say…I don’t care!