Some years ago I was in a Yoga class and the instructor was talking through a breathing exercise. He said very clearly, "Feel the stomach expanding as you breathe in and contracting as you breathe out."
Now to anyone who breathes properly this shouldn't much of a surprise - but to me it was very confusing - surely 'breathing in' requires sucking the stomach IN and pushing the chest out? - Likewise breathing out entailed pushing the stomach OUT?
Turns out I had spent the first FORTY YEARS of my life, NOT BREATHING PROPERLY!!
Having retold this story a number of times I soon discovered that I am not alone in this. The trouble is, if one sucks the stomach IN to breathe in, only the top half of the lungs are being used. But wait it goes even further than that..
When we shallow breathe, (sucking the stomach in to breathe in) the parasympathetic nervous system perceives a threat, stress hormones flood the system - raising blood pressure, suppressing the immune, digestive and reproductive systems, the brain perceives threat and we feel anxious. This system is a natural one that alerts us there is 'something wrong', but if the only thing that is wrong is our breathing and we carry on breathing in the same way it is easy to see how anxious and 'under the weather' we can become!
How could I - and for that matter - so many others have made such a fundamental error in our development? - Well have you ever needed to get through a 'tight spot' in a crowded street? - The first thing we say is "Breathe in" - meaning suck everything in to take up less space!!
Shallow breathing is also a result of underlying anxiety - so if you are a 'worrier' you may find you are more inclined to breathe this way. Although which came first the shallow breathing or the anxiety, might be hard to determine!
Either way spending time on breathing exercises can be very beneficial. As you breathe IN push your stomach OUT and push it back IN as far as it will go to breathe OUT. This can feel really odd to begin with, but the benefits are worth it.
Learning to take control of your breathing will bring calm, clarity of thought and greater vitality, so if you are feeling under pressure today, stop and take time out to really breathe.