Learn how to breathe properly to feel better

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On average we take around 20,000 breaths a day but generally we don’t know we’re doing it.

While we’re all familiar with the advice to ‘take a deep breath’ before tackling a tricky task, did you know that unleashing the hidden power of breath can improve your health and wellbeing?

‘Breathing is key to maintaining a relaxed and tranquil approach to life, helps reduce stress levels and can boost exercise performance,’ says Dr Sarah Brewer, award-winning medical author.

‘Unfortunately, over the years, many people develop poor breathing habits, such as deep sighs, gasps, breath-holding or rapid, shallow breathing that can all undermine wellbeing.’

She says very few of us breathe properly unless we’re taught how to do it. Many people, for instance are ‘upside-down’ breathers, who only breathe into the upper area of the lungs, yet it’s the lower lobes where the most blood vessels are and which enable more oxygen to be drawn in and carried around the body.

Posture may also affect breathing – sitting hunched over a desk or keyboard can compress the diaphragm making it harder for air to travel into the abdomen. Stressful situations can commonly result in shallow, faster, more irregular breathing, says Dr Brewer.

‘This is nature’s time-honoured way of helping us draw in more oxygen so our muscles have a good supply when we need to “fight” or flee from dangerous situation,’ she adds.

‘But in our modern lifestyles there’s generally little need for that sudden physical effort to get away from a problem, we’re more likely to be reacting to internal mental stress, and so that rapid breathing can mean we exhale too much.’