There’s a 95% chance you’re breathing wrong …
… and it most likely started around age 5 ½.
How do I know this?
Because according to scientific studies, the overwhelming majority of adults (95%, to be exact) experience a phenomena around that specific age that causes them to go from breathing an anatomically perfect breath (horizontal breathing), to a mimicking, health-compromising, dysfunctional one (vertical breathing).
This phenomena can be caused by a variety of factors: imitating the posture of parents and superheroes (chest out, shoulders back, stomach sucked in), feeling body shame surrounding the abdomen area, chronic stress, and even just becoming more sedentary (like sitting at a desk all day), to name a few. But regardless of what causes the aforementioned behaviors, they all lead to the same unhealthy breathing habits (guarding, bracing and sucking in) which subsequently lead to a whole host of physical and mental ailments and disadvantages.
This vertical oxygen inhale has been linked to everything from high blood pressure, to digestive issues, increased anxiety, heart-rate, and stress load, back, neck, and shoulder pain, and unsurprisingly, decreased athletic performance.
Prior to this outwardly subtle change in biomechanics, we naturally breathe using our diaphragm, in what’s referred to as “horizontal breathing,” or “diaphragmatic breathing.” This is our natural state of breath when we are not in fight or flight mode. You can tell that you’re breathing this way (i.e correctly) if your inhale begins in the bottom of your stomach, with your stomach pushing outwards on the inhale.
Want to figure out if you’re currently a horizontal or vertical breather? The test is easy: Without cheating and using the insight you just learned above, sit up straight, naturally take a breath, and see where your inhale begins in your body, as well as which direction your stomach goes during the process.
Now, I’m not a gambling woman, but I would put money on the bet that 9/10 of you just did that in reverse — meaning, when you went to take a breath, you naturally pulled your stomach slightly inwards on the inhale, with the majority of your breath coming from the top of your lungs, causing your chest and shoulders to rise. This is how most of us breathe, all day, everyday, with the occasional exception of when we’re sleeping.
You want to see an example of a perfect horizontal breather? Go watch a sleeping baby. These little breathwork gurus have horizontal breathing down PAT. 9/10 of us adults, on the other hand, have developed the habit of relying on our weaker upper body muscles to power our breathing efforts (instead of our diaphragms), which limits the effectiveness of our respiratory function. While it may feel as if you’re taking a “full” breath when you breathe in vertically–because you’re primarily using the smallest parts of your lungs (the tops)–you’re actually not. By not fully-utilizing the entirety of your breathing organs, you’re unintentionally depriving your body of the oxygen it needs to operate optimally, and more concerningly — putting your body into a constant state of fight or flight mode.
Our bodies associate shallow breathing with stress, as this is the way we naturally breathe when faced with a “threat.” This anxious breathing pattern then sends panicked messages to your brain that increase stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which, when overproduced, wreak havoc on the immune system and are related to everything from poor sleep to weight gain.
So who are these 5% of adults who are breathing correctly?
According to Dr. Belisa, Author of “Breathing for Warriors:”
“They’re the world’s most elite professional athletes, martial artists, law enforcement officers and first responders…They all use variations of these techniques to improve health, bring focus to the mind, control their physical responses and improve performance when under pressure.”
Dr. Belisa has extensive experience working with these elite performers for topics ranging from endurance, to stress reduction, to precision, pain reduction, and PTSD.
A clinical psychologist and a leading expert in mental health and fitness, Dr. Belisa Vranich is not only an acclaimed author, but a regular guest on national TV (CNN, Fox News, the Today Show, Good Morning America, and Inside Edition), has been interviewed by power players like Anderson Cooper and Bill O’Reilly; Dr. Oz has even recognized her as one of the top US doctors in her field. She’s appeared as a guest on Cesar Millan’s show, Cesar 911, as well as been interviewed as an expert in numerous major media publications, including Crain’s, GQ, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, Time Magazine, and Cosmopolitan.
And according to her book (which is such an authority on this topic it was literally a must-read just for me to write this blog),
“The elite of the elite performers always integrate the breath.”
But even if you don’t fall into the category of “elite performer,” proper breathing is still incredibly important, as it’s quite literally the one thing we are doing all the time, every single day. It is one of the most critical dictators of our physical and mental state, and uncoincidentally, the only autonomous system in our bodies that we can also consciously control. Proper breathing (achieved by incorporating a daily breathwork practice into your routine) provides an incredible list of benefits:
- Anxiety, stress, and tension reduction throughout the body
- Improvement of psychological state
- Emotional regulation
- Body detoxification
- Improved digestion
- Optimal body oxygenation, allowing us to heal faster and live longer
- Greater inner peace
- Increased focus
- Mind and thought control
- Improved athletic performance
- Diaphragm strengthening (which tends to weaken as we age)
- Activation of calming receptors and the parasympathetic nervous system
- Decrease of stress hormones into the bloodstream
- Reduction of neck, chest and shoulder tightness caused by dysfunctional breathing
- Better posture
- Mental and physical pain management
- Lung strength
- Assistance in bringing our heart hate into a range for optimal cognitive and physical performance
- & stopping of panic attacks, freezing under pressure, and decrease of stress hormone production
Now will you be able to make it through the rest of your life if you don’t fix your dysfunctional breathing?
However, as Dr. Belisa so eloquently put it, “If we are breathing merely to survive, any method will suffice…[But} breathing effectively will give you dominion over your states of consciousness.”
So whether you choose to fix your breathing to become an elite performer, or to experience the long list of life-changing health benefits above, one thing we know here at the ICFB is for certain:
If you change your breath, you change your world.
Be the 5%.
Interested in learning the step by step instructions on how to fix your breathing mechanics from the breath doctor herself? We had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Belisa personally at this year’s Breathing Festival–Checkout a sample of that Member’s Area video here:
Buy her book “Breathing for Warriors” here.
Want More? ICFB Members have exclusive access to the entire Festival Archive. Click Here to begin your membership today!
Don’t have thousands of dollars to hire your own private breathwork coach or attend expensive breathwork classes? The beauty of an ICFB membership is you don’t have to! As home to one of the largest collections of digital breathwork resources in the world, our members have on-demand access to guided breathwork sessions, full talks and bite-size toolkit sessions, in addition to LIVE (via Zoom) events from the world’s leading breathwork masters.
Whether you’re looking for ways to decrease your anxiety, increase your athletic performance, calm down your kids or connect deeper in your spiritual practice — Breathwork is the modality for you.
Brought to you by the International Center for Breathwork.
If you enjoyed reading this blog, consider joining the ICFB membership program. For one low monthly or annual fee, you’ll have access to LIVE and on-demand lessons, group breathing experiences and much, much more. Sign up today!
* This article includes information from the following sources: