One night a few years ago in a beautiful yoga studio in Connecticut, I took my first private yoga class with one of my favorite instructors. During class, she stopped me and said, "Angela, you have a lovely yoga practice, but you don't know how to breathe."
Don't know how to breathe? How had I gotten through 37+ years of life without knowing how to breathe? Air in, air out. Not so hard, right? But then my yoga mentor began teaching me how to breathe, and I realized - she was right.
Not knowing how to breathe correctly probably started for me as a young child. I had constant ear infections and colds and often couldn't breathe out of my nose. My doctor said I was a "mouth breather". Tubes, medication, and getting older helped me to begin breathing out of my nose, but I had another problem. Not only was I a mouth breather, but I was also a chest breather. (I know ... you may be saying "So? Mouth, chest, lungs - aren't you supposed to use these to breathe?") Then, like many teenagers, I wore my designer jeans that were tightly fitted around the waist. Which means a lot of holding in of the stomach and not much room for the diaphragm to expand.
As a teacher, I can remember feeling by the end of the day as if I had not breathed at all. I was often so stressed and in a rush to fit everything in that my stomach was clenched and my shoulders and chest were tight. Not great for breathing it turns out. Also not great for one's health. And forget about breathing correctly as a mom! Who has time for that?
So it wasn't until my yoga instructor began showing me how to breathe, that I realized how truly important it was. Concentrating on the breathe and breathing fully and correctly can literally change many aspects of your life. Your anxiety level can go down, you can focus more on the moment, you can physically and mentally accomplish more, and your health can greatly improve.
Relaxed, diaphragmatic breathing where we are breathing in and out of our noses and from our belly has a "positive effect on the cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal, and muscular systems, and has a general effect on sleep, memory, energy levels, and concentration."(from Yoga Calm for Children)
How can we teach this type of breathing to our children, and ourselves? You can have your child lie on his back, stand, or sit in a chair with his hands on his belly. Have him take a deep breath through his nose very slowly to a count of three. Your child should feel (and you should see) his belly go up. Then, have him exhale through his nose to a count of three. He should feel his belly go down. As he continues to breathe, his belly will go up and down like the waves of the ocean. If you see his shoulders rise up while breathing, this is a sign that he is breathing through the upper chest and not the abdomen. Your child can practice this breathing in a relaxed setting, and then be taught to use it whenever he is anxious.
Once I started "belly breathing" rather then "chest breathing" many of my gastrointestinal problems went away. And I use this breathing to relax, focus, fall asleep, and go further when exercising. And when my kids breath this way it relaxes them and centers them so that they can calm themselves and make better decisions on how to handle problems and anxious situations.
So stop sucking in that belly and start breathing into it instead! Fill it up like a balloon and then deflate it. Make your breath like the ocean and dwell in the peace it creates.
May your heart be at ease,