If you’re like most people, you breathe in short, shallow breaths throughout the day that don’t fully contract your diaphragm to fill your lungs—and you don’t even know it. What’s to stop you? It’s not like you are suffering from the lack of oxygen . . . or so you think. Your lungs are built to provide precisely the amount of air your body needs for all of your organs to function effectively. When you take shallow breaths—which is any breath that fails to make your stomach protrude outward from the influx of air—you aren’t giving your body the full amount of oxygen it needs.
Your brain demands a full 20 percent of your body’s oxygen supply, which it needs to control basic functions like breathing and sight and complex functions like thinking and managing your mood. Your brain dedicates oxygen first to the basic functions, because they keep you alive. Whatever oxygen remains is used for the complex functions, which keep you alert, focused, and calm. Shallow breaths deprive your brain of oxygen, which can lead to poor concentration, forgetfulness, mood swings, restlessness, depressed and anxious thoughts, and a lack of energy. Shallow breathing handicaps your ability to self-manage.
The next time you are in a stressful or emotional situation, focus on taking slow deep breaths, inhaling through your nose until you can feel your stomach swell outward and grow tight, and then exhaling gently and completely through your mouth. As you exhale, go ahead and push that breath out until you have completely emptied your lungs. If you want to make sure that you are breathing correctly, place one hand upon your sternum (the long, flat bone located in the center of your chest) and the other hand upon your stomach as you take in breaths. If the hand on your stomach is moving more than the hand on your sternum as you exhale, then you know that you’re getting enough oxygen and fully inflating your lungs. If you practice this proper breathing technique, it will grow comfortable enough that you can do it in the presence of other people without them noticing, which is handy for when you find yourself in the middle of a difficult conversation.
Anytime you choose to breathe right and flood your brain with oxygen, you’ll notice the effects immediately. Many people describe the sensation as oneof entering a calmer, more relaxed state where they have a clear head. This makes breathing right one of the simplest yet most powerful techniques that you have at your disposal to manage your emotions. In addition to engaging your rational brain on the spot, breathing right is a great tool for shifting your focus away from intruding, uncomfortable thoughts that are hard to shake. Whether you are overcome by anxiety and stress because of a looming deadline, or fixated on negative thoughts and feelings about something that happened in the past, making yourself breathe right calms you down and makes you feel better by powering up your rational brain.