I’ve Been Breathing Wrong All My Life

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Sometimes simple things make a big difference.

About 3 months ago, I injured my right shoulder. It wasn’t a major injury, but it was bad enough to stop me from playing golf and doing other physical things I enjoy.

Like most people with this type of injury, I turned to the medical community for help (from massage therapists to chiropractors).

I even tried acupuncture for the first time. I was scared shitless doing it—especially after watching Final Destination 5, but I did it anyway.

My chiropractor, Dr. Trevor Vander Doelen took my medical history and gave me a thorough examination. When he finished, he told me something I never expected to hear.

He said I was breathing incorrectly. I was dumbfounded.

The stress of the situation was causing stress and with that stress I had seemed to forget how to breathe.

On The Road To Recovery

Like many people with an average body, I suck in my belly and breathe with my chest so that I hold a great posture and look thinner. Turns out, this is wrong. And it spells trouble.

Breathing with the chest instead of my stomach activates my neck and shoulder muscles. And since I was breathing like this all the time, I was continually activating these muscles. They never rested.

All this activity has negative consequences. It encourages injuries like the one I had. This could explain why I have so many neck problems and am prone to other types of injuries.

But I’m not alone in breathing incorrectly. Many people do the same thing. Once I discovered this bad behaviour of mine, I purposely observed people around me and noticed that almost every breathes with their chest.

Benefits of Breathing Properly

Most of us breathe without giving it a moment’s thought. We take countless breaths and never think anything of it.  This seems to work just fine. So why should we change how we breathe?

The answer: because breathing correctly provides us with numerous benefits. Among the benefits are better blood pressure levels and good health.

In addition, breathing correctly provides steady energy throughout the day, helps maintain a positive mood, boosts memory, and promotes a strong vocal expression.

And if that isn’t enough, it does one other critical thing: Breathing correctly combats stress by helping us relax before, during and after a hard day’s work.

Our modern life style puts us under prolonged stress. This does a number on out bodies.

My good friend Kira Leskew, entrepreneur, former competitive swimmer and certified Yoga instructor also notes:

One other really big characteristic of breathing is that it is the only function in our bodies that are controlled by both the autonomic and voluntary nervous systems, which means that we don’t have to think to breathe (it will happen naturally the same as our stomach digesting food, and our heart pumping blood), but we can also control it voluntarily, the same why we control our legs, our hands and/or our tongue.
This is really important for controlling stress, as when we are stressed, we breathe more shallowly (upper chest) which in turn causes the body to feel more stress, releases more stress hormones, and breathe again more shallowly, causing and re-enforcing the loop of stress.
However, when we consciously breathe deeply and properly, specifically into the lower parts of our lungs, the relaxation response is triggered in the body, flooding it with positive hormones, and breaking the stress cycle.
In fact, with awareness and “training” of breathing deeply, we can practice the relaxation response and actually control our perceived levels of stress in our lives.

Needless to say, we don’t live our lives at a relaxed pace. Nor do we always live satisfying lives.

Breathing correctly counters this. It reduces stress by relaxing our body, our mind, and our emotions. All we have to do is change how we breathe.

Breathing Test

Fast forward a few months and I’m feeling a lot better. I’ve started training 5 days a week again at LPS, and I’ve hit a few balls at the golf simulators.

I’ve changed my breathing mechanics and I’m doing breathing exercises regularly.

Want to know if you’re breathing better? Try this simple test:

Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach. Breathe. The hand on your stomach should be the only hand moving (expanding away from your body) while you take a breath. If you find that the hand on your chest is moving in any direction then chances are you are not breathing properly.

If you find yourself breathing this way, try something Dr. Trevor Vander Doelen recommended:

When you breathe, focus on doing it with your stomach—not with your chest. Take a deep breath with your hand on your stomach and make sure your stomach is expanding away from your body. Yes, you may need to over-exaggerate the feeling, but that’s a great way to change a bad habit!

Keep breathing like this until it’s a habit. You’ll see a big difference. And don’t worry about how you look. Your health is more important than your vanity.

If you can’t take care of yourself first then you won’t be able to take care of the people around you. There is a reason why, when you fly, they teach you to put on your oxygen mask before helping others.

Have you been breathing wrong?

Do you feel like your shoulders and back are more relaxed after correcting your breathing?

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Photography Credit: Taken by I k o.

About the author

Jeremy Choi

I’m a husband, father, entrepreneur, mentor, and an irredeemable golf addict. Possibly like you, my big hairy audacious goal (vision) is to make a positive dent in this world. I write about creating better leaders, workers, and people. I also write about my experiences in all aspects of my life. These ideas are my experiences living & learning through my own core values; integrity, authenticity, leadership, inspire, and health.

6 comments

  • I recognized this bad habit recently as well from a book I read. I also have neck and shoulder problems since a gym injury years ago. To be honest, I haven’t noticed a huge difference there, but I’m not sure how often I breathe correctly. I can say that this technique brings down my stress and anxiety almost instantly.

    • Amazing Mike.

      Do you still have neck and shoulder problems? I haven’t had a strain in a long time now. I used to get them quite often which would take me out of the gym for like a whole week. That was how bad they were. When I get a massage now, I also use the breathing technique, I noticed that they can get to the muscles a lot better, and it’s less painful when it’s deep tissue.

      As for training, I tend to start breathing again with my chest when doing heavy weights — when I’m flexing or staying tight in exercises, it’s actually quite hard to instinctively breathe with my stomache. I’m working on this right now, and for the reps/sets that I put my mind to breathing properly, I find that I’m stronger.

      I also practice this as I walk to the office or anywhere. Quite often, I walk fast, a hurry up pace, which more often than not results in myself breathing through the chest again.

      Working on it everyday!

  • Dear Jeremy,

    Thanks for this post. Very beautifully explained.

    My guru mentioned this to me 8 years ago, but I didn’t give much attention, but now he told me the same thing and so was reading more on it.

    Thanks,
    Avadhut

  • I’ve been on my breathing journey for a few years now. I’ve gotten so much better at it after realizing the importance of it. I can relax better and faster now in times of need. Thanks for the read!

    • Happy to hear that you enjoyed it Monisha. I always refer back to this piece I’ve written, it’s a staple for me to consistently remind myself to breathe properly.