Breathing is so vital, so natural a process to us that we hardly ever even stop to think about it, and so it may come as a surprise to us that most people in our culture breathe improperly most of the time.

Many factors cause us to breathe inappropriately- diet, drugs, emotions, environmental pollutants, illness, injury, financial concerns and even mannerisms. "Improper breathing is a common cause of ill health," says alternative health guru Dr. Andrew Weil. Stress expert Dr. Charles Stroebel agrees, saying that "Breathing can be implicated in close to 70% of diseases as a causative or contributing factor.

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Learning how to breathe properly can improve both our physical, mental, and emotional health, healing everything from depression to back pain to fatigue. It can aid in weight loss and improve everything from our nervous system to our digestive process. In fact, many experts estimate that proper breathing helps your body eliminate toxins 15 times faster than poor, shallow breathing. Like most things, however, proper breathing is a learning process that comes with awareness, discipline, and practice. Here are some tips to help change the way you breathe and begin to increase the health of body and mind:

Slow Down: Most people take 12-16 breaths per minute. Ideally, it should be 8-10. Slowing down the breath helps to relax the body and keeps you in a calmer, more tuned in state of mind every day. A good way of learning how to slow down your breathing is to lie down on your back and time your breath for one minute. Start breathing in more deeply and feel the changes that occur in your body, know what it feels like to breathe deeply and slowly.

Go Deep: In certain parts of the world, proper breathing is learned through various spiritual practices like yoga and Buddhist meditation. Here in the West we often haven’t learned how to physically breathe properly. Most of us use only our upper torso and upper lungs to breathe and so our breath is shallow. Good proper breathing involves breathing from the bottom of the lungs, belly, and back. A good way to learn this is to place your hands first on your lower rib cage. Breathe in deeply and feel your lower ribs expand. You are now breathing from your lower lungs. Go deeper into the breath by now putting your hand on your belly and letting your breath fill your stomach. Feel it expand. Finally, once your lungs and belly are full, push the breathe backwards from your belly into your lower back, feel the breath expand into your back. This might be hard at first because our diaphragms, the muscle that helps control our breathing, is not as strong as it should be. But by consciously practicing deep breathing, we work out this muscle and can begin to breathe deeply.Try setting aside fifteen minutes before going to bed to practice this exercise-it will help calm you and make your sleep more undisturbed.

Sing: Singing is a great way to tone the diaphragm and learn how to use the breath. Don’t worry about what you sound like, sing in the shower, in the car, or while you are walking or cleaning. Practice long refrains that use all of your breath or get how to sing CD’s or audio tapes. Often, these have instructions and exercises that help deepen the breath and utilize it, plus you get to hone your talents.

Focus on Exercise: In addition to clearing the body of toxins, burning calories, and toning your muscles, aerobic exercise is a great way to learn how to breathe. Like singing, it tones the diaphram. It also increases your heart rate and forces you to breathe more and more deeply. Incorporating exercises such as strenuous hiking, fast walking, aerobics, jogging, or sports such as basketball or soccer into your weekly routine is a sure way to stay healthy and know that you are getting enough oxygen.

Be Aware: When you start to train yourself to recognize your breath, it is easier to see patterns. When we are stressed out or angry we start to notice that our breath is shallow and quick. When we are sad or scared we tend to hold our breath more. By becoming more aware of these patterns we can begin to override them. We can relieve the stress and anger, the sadness or fear just by purposefully deepening the breath and slowing it down. Research has shown that deep breathing is as potent a relaxant and destresser as most prescription pills for anxiety. It can also help with chronic pain. Breathing into the area of the body that hurts is a way to lessen that pain.

About Author: You can read more articles from Jen Boda on his blog:

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