Basic survival is a useful way to make sense of your health and fitness. Prioritising based on what you simply wouldn’t be able to live without is a simple way of figuring out where you can make improvements.
The human body can go for about three weeks without food, less than a week without sleep and three days without water. So, top priority is to drink enough water, then to get enough sleep, then to eat a balanced diet. Sort these out and throw in some exercise, and you’re on track to a healthy body.
But there’s another thing we need to do to survive that’s even more essential than water, sleep or food: breathing.
Oxygen is the most essential fuel that our bodies need to function, and without it, we don’t last very long. But unlike drinking, sleeping and eating, breathing is largely automated, so we don’t think about it unless we deliberately take control. Most people spend their whole lives without ever thinking about whether their breathing could be improved, but – like any other action – you can be trained to breathe better, making a significant difference to your well-being. Breathing better tends to be breathing deeper. In the lungs, there is more blood at the bottom, so the more oxygen we can get there, the better. When we breather better, we suffer less tension, fatigue, and anxiety. We perform better in daily life and in our exercise or sport.
Luckily, it’s quite easy to train yourself to breathe better. Here are two simple exercises that you can do in the comfort of your own home that can increase your lung capacity, and breathing technique, helping you to take in more oxygen, think clearer and reduce your stress.
Take a light object such as a yoga block, shoe or empty bottle and place it on your belly as you lie on your back. Then breathe in slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth, watching the object rise and fall. If the object isn’t moving then you’re breathing using your chest and not your diaphragm, so focus on trying to breathe into your stomach.
After some time of practising this technique for five to ten minutes a day, you’ll eventually feel less tight chested when you breathe. This is because your diaphragm muscles will have strengthened, increasing your lung capacity and decreasing the amount of pressure on your thorax. This is an easy technique to do at home to relieve stress and improve your health.
This technique was first developed by Russian special forces to increase the lung capacity of their divers, but works just as well for chronically stressed people who have developed rapid and tight breathing that remains even when they’re not in a stressful situation. It’s changed the life of clients of mine who work in high pressure corporate environments or law enforcement whose breathing patterns have been damaged by the near constant stress.
You start by lying on your back, plugging your nose with a diver’s clip or a peg and then placing a straw in your mouth. You then breathe only through the straw for five minutes, repeating this every day for a week before moving up to two straws for a week and then three.
Because breathing through a straw is more difficult, it forces your body to use your diaphragm to give your lungs the power they need. This has the same benefits as the diaphragm exercise mentioned above but is more difficult, giving quicker results and can push your lungs even further. Even if you don’t suffer from shortness of breath, it’s worth training with straw breathing as the increase in lung capacity can be revelatory.
While both these exercises can be done without any assistance, I also provide guided training that can help you to breathe better, whether you want to increase your athletic performance or simply reduce your day to day stress. Book an appointment by calling 020 7937 1628 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org