Are you breathing wrong? Here’s how to improve your technique

We take around 22,000 breaths each day, but most of us never question how we do it. Focussing on your breathing technique could have far-reaching health benefits.

Breathe in, breathe out, repeat… We all know how to breathe and that it is essential to life.

But despite doing it all day, every day, you’re probably breathing wrong.

And what you may not realise is the powerful impact an effective breathing technique can have on your mind, body and spirit.

“It’s something so simple, we passively do it, but a lot of people don’t realise the incredible health benefits it can create for you physiologically and biochemically when you actively do it,” Dr Amy Carmichael says.

What are the benefits of intentional breathing?

As well as enhancing oxygen uptake, intentional breathing techniques can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and emotional regulation, Dr Carmichael, who specialises in holistic health and wellbeing, explains.

“When people become trained in breathing techniques and become more conscious of how they’re breathing, their blood pressure will lower, they improve their heart rate variability, they have less stress hormones, less lactic acid,” she says.

“Their immune system improves and energy levels improve.”

Am I breathing incorrectly?

Dr Carmichael says while there is no “wrong way” to breathe, we may not always be breathing in a way that optimises our oxygen intake.

“There is not necessarily an incorrect way of breathing, but there may be a dysfunctional way of breathing,” she notes.

“Most people nowadays lead quite stressful lives and, generally, need to slow their breathing down and take more conscious, deep breaths because they’re generally only using a certain capacity of their lungs.”

Common ways people breathe inefficiently

Vertical breathing: Very common among adults — your chest and shoulders rise up toward your chin as you inhale.

Inhaling through the mouth: Common when you have a cold and your nose is blocked but if it continues long term, it can cause sleep disorders and potentially dental issues.

Taking too many or shallow breaths: This is often termed hyperventilation, and can be caused by illness, anxiety or panic.

Dr Carmichael says it is important to note that in the right circumstance, different types of breathing may be useful.

“In the right time and space, it might be important for someone to hyperventilate,” she says.

“If you’re a boxer about to go into a fight, almost hyperventilating with fast, shallow breaths is useful as it’s increasing heart rate, increasing blood pressure, and the blood is being supplied to the major organs, and you’re hyper-focused — you need that.”

6 health-boosting breathing techniques to try

Dr Carmichael says there are many deep breathing techniques, and different ones will suit different people.

“It’s really a matter of people finding one that works for them, every type of breathwork is not perfect for everyone,” she says.

To reap the health benefits of intentional breathing, here are a few popular techniques to try for yourself:

Belly breathing

Also called abdominal breathing, this involves inhaling deeply and expanding the abdomen instead of just the chest, using the diaphragm to draw in more air.

This technique promotes relaxation and oxygenation by engaging the body’s natural relaxation response.

Holotropic breathing

Holotropic breathwork involves rapid and deep breathing to induce an altered state of consciousness and facilitate emotional release and personal transformation.

“Your vision — eyes closed — becomes more apparent,” Dr Carmichael says.

“You see things, you sense things, you become more intuitive.”

Pranayama (alternate nostril breathing)

A yogic breathing technique, this involves inhaling and exhaling through alternate nostrils, using a finger to close off one nostril.

“This is very good at relaxing people,” Dr Carmichael says.

“It helps create a balance between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.”

Wim Hof breathing

This involves a series of controlled deep inhalations and exhalations, followed by a period of breath holding.

Also known as power breathing, and often practised in combination with cold exposure, this method is said to boost energy, improve immune function and increase mental focus.

Box breathing

A popular mindfulness technique, it involves inhaling, holding, exhaling and holding the breath in equal counts — usually 4-5 seconds each.

Box breathing is said to help reduce stress, increase focus and regulate emotions by activating the body’s relaxation response.

“It creates a nice sense of peace in the holding phase,” Dr Carmichael says.

Humming breath

Also known as ocean breathing, this technique involves making a low humming sound while exhaling through the nose with closed lips.

Dr Carmichael says it can calm the mind, reduce stress and promote relaxation.

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Written by Claire Burke.