Take a deep breath. Chances are your shoulders shrugged and your chest puffed out.
And chances are you don’t realize that’s not how you’re supposed to breathe. See, that belly breath your yoga instructor is always talking about has a place in more than your yoga practice. That’s actually how people are supposed to breathe all day every day, says clinical psychologist Belisa Vranich, Psy.D., creator of OXYGEN breathing class at WILLSPACE in NYC.
While that’s the way we are born breathing (seriously, go look at a baby’s belly go!), over time, a combination of stress, sitting, and worrying over how our stomachs causes us to force air upwards into our chest, where our lungs actually absorb relatively little oxygen—our bodies’ primary fuel. As a result, our bodies run on empty without us even knowing it. Our energy drains, our focus fades, and we feel downright frazzled, Vranich says.
Luckily, correcting the problem is pretty easy—and can double as an abs workout. Here, Vranich shares five breathing exercises that will help you do just that.
Sitting up straight, drape one arm over your head so that your bicep is covering your ear. Stretching to the opposite side so that your elbow points straight overhead, inhale as deeply as you can. Your side should rise toward the ceiling. Relax the stretch and exhale. Repeat on both sides.
Breathe-right benefits: Strengthens your intercostals, the muscles between your ribs that help them expand to both sides to accommodate huffing and puffing.
Lie face down on the floor with your hands underneath your chin. As you inhale through your mouth, fill your belly with air to raise your torso off of the floor. Your lower back and butt should not tighten. Exhale to return your torso to the floor. Repeat
Breathe-right benefit: While teaching how to inhale into the abdominal cavity, it strengthens the diaphragm muscle.
Exhale pulsations in a twist
Sit on the floor, bend your knees, and while pointing your knees to one side of your body, turn your shoulders and head to face the other so that you are seated in a reclining twist. Then, quickly blow a pulse of air out through your mouth as if you are blowing out candles. Repeat until you cannot exhale any more. Inhale and repeat.
Breathe-right benefit: Strengthens your deep abdominal muscles that help you expel all of the carbon dioxide from your system and make room for oxygen.
Drop and arch
Get on all fours with your back flat. Take a deep breath through your mouth and let your belly fall toward the floor. On the exhale, force the air out of your abdomen so it draws up and in toward your belly button. Repeat.
Breathe-right benefit: Helps to lower the breath to the middle of the body and combine the deep inhale and exhale.
Breathe and squeeze
While seated, inhale deeply through your mouth, filling your belly. Then, as you contract your lower abs to exhale, squeeze your Kegel muscles. Repeat.
Breathe-right benefit: Strengthens your abs, pelvic floor, and can ease lower back pain.