Don’t you just hate that moment when someone points out that you are doing something wrong that you have been doing for ever? I can always remember being corrected as a child over how I held a fork.
Well it happened again last week. This time it is much more worrying. I have been breathing incorrectly for over 40 years. Breathing is one of the most fundamental and essential requirements of living and it would appear that I can’t get that right. How rubbish am I!
Needless to say, it made me nervous. What were the implications? What had I missed out on by doing it wrong (other than missing out on my fair share of air?) Why on earth hadn’t my mother corrected me about this (back to the fork again, she was quick enough to do that, I won’t let it go).
It was explained to me by my critic (my local fitness group trainer), that I was not alone in this. In fact the entire class were doing it wrong (comforting). It seemed that we had all lost the technique of breathing that we had as infants and as a consequence we now breathed less efficiently. Instead of chest breathing, we should be belly breathing, diaphragmatic breathing.
Now this had my interest. While there are number of things that I have changed from being an infant which are positive (independent toilet management immediately springs to mind), the idea that I and others had engineered a method of obtaining less of the oxygen our bodies needs in a way less effective than my two year old troubled me. How could I change this?
Our instructor highlighted our failings by the following exercise. We were asked to lie down and put our right hands on our chests. Next the other hand on our tummies. On three we had to take a deep breath through either the mouth or nose. As predicted our shoulders rose as did our right hands. The tell tale signs of chest breathers.
How a child breathes is different. Most of the breathing happens in the belly. The breathing comes from diaphragm, the muscle located between the thoracic and abdominal cavities. An infant naturally uses this muscle to draw oxygen into its lungs. If you watch an infant breath you will see that they contract their diaphragm into the abdominal cavity and push the belly out so increasing the lung capacity. That night I watched it happen in the breathing of my youngest. I was shamed at her performance. She was good at it.
So why is this important beyond being bettered by a two year old? Let me tell you. If you are chest breathing, you are not maximising your lung capacity. Without using the diaphragm less space is available for incoming air as the lower part of the lungs are not being accessed. Without pretending to fully understand the science, you are effectively getting less O2 per puff than is possible.
In addition there are thought to be health complications associated with chest breathing. Back and posture issues. Even stress related issues caused by the body not being able to fully relax.
Elite athletes and those who train them are alert to this. Diaphramatic breathing techniques have been widely incorporated into training routines.
I have attached a link to a video of a number of training techniques that you may be interested in trying. Give it a go and soon you should be able to feel the benefits during exercise. Stamina should improve and that should stop you getting whipped by that toddler on the treadmill.