You take thousands of breaths every day without thinking about it. Breathing, unless you focus on it, is automatic. However, because breathing is automatic, you probably don't realize how much actually goes into each breath.
When you breathe in, your diaphragm — an umbrella of muscle under your lungs — contracts and flattens out. When your diaphragm flattens, it allows your lungs to expand, creating extra room. Air rushes in through your nose or mouth to fill that empty space. To breathe out, you use your abs, back muscles, the muscles of your ribs and even your neck muscles. How you breathe is so important that learning how to properly breathe should be the first step in core training, according to a 2012 study in the Strength and Conditioning Journal.
The Problem with Shallow Breathing
One of the drawbacks of breathing automatically is that you probably can't tell when something changes in your breathing pattern. Factors such as consistent stress, smoking and lung problems and injuries can cause shallow breathing, meaning you inhale and exhale less. This is very common people who deal with a lot of stress, but it's also common in people who have trouble getting oxygen, such as smokers or those who suffer from lung disease.
When you are taking more shallow, frequent breaths, it means that you are not fully using your diaphragm to breathe in or ab muscles to breathe out, according to a 2010 issue of North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. In order to strengthen these muscles, you must push them to the max by breathing fully in and out. According to the American Lung Association, regular breathing exercises can help rid the lungs of accumulated stale air, increase oxygen levels and get the diaphragm to return to its job of helping you breathe.
Blow Up A Balloon
Balloons are not only great party decorations, they are an excellent tool to strengthen your abs and diaphragm. The balloon resists your exhale, forcing you to really blow out hard. Think of it as resistance training for the muscles that help you exhale.
Lay on the floor on your back and put your feet up on a bench, couch or chair. Your knees should be bent to 90 degrees. Put a balloon in your mouth, holding it straight with your right hand. Your left arm should be flat on the ground next to you. Lift your butt 2 inches off the ground by pushing your heels into the bench, couch or chair.
Take a big breath in through your nose and blow out through your mouth into the balloon. Keep blowing out until you have absolutely no air left in your lungs. When you have nothing left, pause. Wait 5 seconds before you breathe in.
When you breathe in, put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and breathe in through your nose. Breathe in as much air as you can, then blow it out forcefully into the balloon until you have absolutely no air left in your lungs, then pause.
Keep repeating this cycle until the balloon is full. Then let the air out of the balloon and try again. Blow the balloon up five times.
Get into an all-fours position on the ground (on your hands and knees). Gently round your back like you are doing the "cat" pose in yoga. Make sure that your shoulders are over your hands and your hips are over your knees.
Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you breathe out, round your back even further and tuck your chin toward your chest. Keep rounding as you blow all of the air out of the lungs. Pause at the end of your exhale for five seconds, holding the rounded position. Then, breathe in through your nose. Even as you breathe in, keep your back as rounded as possible.
When your lungs are full of air, breathe out again as hard as you can, rounding your back even more. Repeat this cycle five times, then take a break.