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Help Harness Your Zen With These Breathing Exercises

Need to unwind? You've come to the right place. Instead of shelling loads of money on the newest self-care trend, why not try the option closest to you? Breathing. You don't even need to go to a gym or spa to use the power of your own lungs. The best part — harnessing your breath is completely free. There are plenty of breathing exercises out there to help you weather moments of stormy seas. Here, come relax with the wellness experts who provided A to Z(en) on breathing exercises.

Vital Note: This article has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Your licensed healthcare professional can best provide you with the diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition and assist you as well in deciding whether a dietary supplement will be a helpful addition to your regimen.

How can I strengthen my lungs?

When you want to strengthen your muscles, you work out. But you might be wondering if there is a way you can strengthen your lungs. If you're interested in "working out" your lung function, you tap into deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing. This is when you breathe slowly into the abdomen, allowing the belly to fully expand with the in-breath. "This pulls the diaphragm down, which encourages the lungs to fill fully and more efficiently," Victoria Davis, CEO of WellspringMind, explains to Lively. "Practicing this type of breathing will not only strengthen the lungs, but will help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the body's relaxation response."

No surprise here – exercise is another great way to breathe some life into your lungs. What may surprise you, though, is that things like watching your posture, staying hydrated and even laughter can all limber up this essential organ.

"Laughter helps work your abdominal muscles and increase lung capacity and forces out deoxygenated air to make room for fresh air/oxygen," explains Marty Langlois, a Christian women's health coach.


What is the 4-7-8 breathing technique?

The next time something irritates you, hold off on an angry reaction and try the 4-7-8 breathing technique (also called "relaxing breath") instead. Just consider it your mini therapist on-the-go.

"This breathing pattern is useful for clearing the mind," Langolis tells Lively. "It can also help relax the body to help people fall asleep." This effective breathing technique is as simple as it sounds. According to Davis, you "inhale for a count of 4; hold for 7; exhale to the count of 8."

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breathing exercises

What is the best exercise for lungs?

"Simple deep breathing exercises can help you get closer to reaching your lungs' full capacity," Langlois tells Lively.

Try it for yourself with these tips from Langlois:

  • Slowly inhale and consciously expand your belly with awareness of lowering the diaphragm.
  • Next, expand your ribs, allowing the floating ribs to open like wings.
  • Finally, allow the upper chest to expand and lift.
  • After this, exhale as completely as possible by letting the chest fall, then contracting the ribs and, finally, bring the stomach muscles in and up to lift the diaphragm and expel the last bit of air.

Use this technique regularly to help center yourself throughout your day. It also helps "train your body to develop a normal breathing pattern throughout the entire respiratory system," according to Langlois. Keep in mind that certain breath-work practices aren't suitable for everyone. (You should consult a medical practitioner to determine what's best for you.)

As Davis explains, "intense breath-work, like breath of fire (short and fast breaths, with air being forcefully and rapidly drawn in and out of the body) should not be done by those with heart or respiratory conditions, or if you're pregnant."

Another answer to "What is the best exercise for lungs?" is exercise in general. "Cardiorespiratory exercise makes our breathing more efficient by strengthening our respiratory muscles (diaphragm)," says Langlois. She adds that cardiorespiratory exercise also improves the ability of our muscles to use oxygen, cope with tough days and improve quality of sleep.

What are the different types of breathing exercises?

Whether you're at your wits end with the COVID-19 pandemic or deal with anxiety on a regular basis, a state of calm is only a few breaths away. In addition to deep breathing and the 4-7-8 technique, here are some other ones to add to your self-care toolbox.

Alternate nostril breathing:

This is a safe and highly effective lung exercise that provides the benefits of meditation. According to Davis, you simply hold one nostril closed and then inhale and exhale through the opposite before switching sides. "Repeat in this fashion, completing one full breath cycle on the first side and the next full breath cycle on the other," she says.

Breath-focused breathing:

Focus on your breath by focusing on a word that you want to meditate on, such as peace, love, joy or relax. Heck — even thinking about tacos might work. Natasha Gisela, a writer and YouTuber says this is her personal favorite breath technique. To perform the exercise, start in a seated position, gently close your eyes and watch how your belly rises up and down. "You should be breathing in and out from your nose and mouth. Your mouth should be making a whooshing sound like the ocean while you focus on the word of your choosing," she says.

breathing exercises

What is the 7/11 breathing technique?

Not to be confused with the convenience store, this convenient 7/11 breathing technique is where the body meets relaxation. Emily Fleming, yoga instructor and founder of Emily Fleming Yoga, shares that it helps shift the body into a state of calm and relaxation by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. "The parasympathetic nervous system is active when our body is calm and at rest, so, this is a calming breathing strategy," Fleming explains. To perform the breathing exercise, "you breathe in for a count of 7, breath out for a count of 11." The length of the inhale and exhale can be adjusted as needed, so long as the exhale is longer than the inhale, she explains. After all, this is what helps activate the body’s relaxation response.

What are the 4 types of breathing?

There are four types of breathing available to humans. Harness the power of your own breath by learning about each one.

Diaphragmatic breathing: This type is what deep breathing is all about. In this technique, the diaphragm draws down into the abdominal cavity. Doing so "both extends the abdomen outward with each in-breath and creates space in the lungs," Davis says. It allows the lungs to expand and fill completely.

Thoracic breathing: During this type of breathing, the diaphragm doesn't descend when we inhale, resulting in only the chest expanding with the breath. While you don't want it to be your default breathing pattern, Langois says that thoracic breathing can be useful in certain situations. Generally, this is in an ashtanga yoga practice where the breath work is limited to the chest until the end of the session.

Clavicular breathing: This is considered the shallowest pattern for breathing. (The top of each lung is above the collarbone, or clavicle.) "Most people don't realize just how much space the lungs take up in the body," Langlois tells Lively. "Clavicular breathing is unfortunately when we don’t even manage to get the inhale lower than the collarbone."

Paradoxical breathing: If your chest contracts on the inhale and expands on the exhale, you may have paradoxical breathing. Davis calls it a rare occurrence. While it's less concerning for children whose lungs are still developing, it may signify an underlying health condition in adults.

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