I know what you're thinking. "Breathe? I know how to breathe." And you would be right. But chances are, you might not be breathing properly.

Over time, you breathe a certain way. It can either be by inhaling too much air, taking shallow breaths, or unknowingly holding your breath. The way you breathe eventually becomes something you do as a habit.

Is the way you breathe just getting you by, or are you breathing in a way that optimizes how you work and performance?

Why breathing matters

Improper breathing can harm your sleep patterns and the way you feel during the day. Your breathing habits also have a negative impact on your muscles, brain, nervous system, and heart.

To break it down, here are a few risks you'll face with breathing incorrectly:

  • Your nervous system gets overly excited, making you anxious and stressed out
  • Increased muscle tension and tightening blood vessels makes your heart work harder, increasing blood pressure and tiring you out faster
  • Your brain receives less oxygen, so it's more difficult to use your brain to think through situations logically, which also creates dizziness and headaches

Not good. However, learning the proper way to breathe helps you to think and work better, and it's also better for your health in general.

For instance, breathing correctly provides these benefits:

  • Reduced blood pressure, which is easier on the heart and helps you become more relaxed
  • Your nervous system is in equilibrium, lowering stress levels
  • Oxygen flows more easily to the brain, helping you to think with more clarity

While tense muscles and a quickly beating heart was useful back in the day to prepare yourself for running away from a lion, we don't tend to encounter these types of problems nowadays. Instead, most of our stress and nervousness stems from mentally-related issues.

For example, you might find yourself short of breath when someone is berating you, you need to make a difficult decision, or you're suddenly swamped with an onslaught of paperwork.

When we start breathing the wrong way, it works against us because we can't think through issues and sometimes freeze up instead.

How to breathe

Ever hear someone tell you, "Just take a deep breath"?

While that's correct, it's only part of the story. The other important component of breathing properly is to exhale all that air. When someone tells you to take a deep breath, what might end up happening is that you breathe in a lot of air, but end up holding it in and forget to breathe for awhile.

So step-by-step, here's how you breathe.

  1. Place one hand over your chest and the other over your stomach.
  2. Sigh, as if you just had a long day. Let your shoulders drop and your muscles relax. At the same time, don't let all the air out of your lungs - the point of sighing is to relax your upper body.
  3. Close your mouth again and pause. Stop breathing and count to three.
  4. While keeping your mouth closed, slowly inhale air through your nose. Be aware and mindful of the way you inhale. Your stomach should expand, while your chest remains relatively still. Once again, pause and count to three.
  5. Finally, exhale by opening your mouth and letting your stomach go back in. This is your diaphragm contracting.
  6. Once again, pause.
  7. Repeat the process from steps 3 to 7.

It's best to try breathing like this when you have some spare time to yourself. Personally, I like using this exercise throughout the day and before sleep. Setting aside a couple minutes a day to go through this exercise will help you immensely in improving your breathing habits.