When your mother told you to stand up straight and hold your shoulders back, she knew what she was talking about. The way you stand or sit is directly related to how you breathe. Considering you take about 20,000 breaths per day, breathing and posture make an important combination for better health.
Pay attention to your posture
If you catch yourself slouching while standing or slumping when sitting, adjust your posture to a straighter position. Not only will slouching lead to back, shoulder and neck pain, but this awkward position also deprives your lungs of air. An easy way to remedy this is to try to touch an imaginary ceiling with your head. Straighten up and "push up" and you'll feel your back has "grown" an inch or so in the process.
Another way to work on your posture is to place both hands flat on your shoulders, fingers resting on your back. Raise your elbow toward the ceiling and you'll feel your spine naturally straighten. Your body is designed to stand straight, and this position opens your lungs and makes it easier to breathe.
Different ways of breathing
If you only breathe with your chest, you are likely to take shallow breaths. This is called apical breathing, and it also can happen when you are in pain, stressed or asthmatic. A better choice is diaphragmatic breathing, in which you breathe with your abdomen and not your chest. Diaphragmatic breathing gives your lungs more air, resulting in relaxed breathing that offers release from pain and stress.
You can also practice paradoxical breathing, a technique that dancers, singers and athletes use. During this type of breathing, you don't relax your abdomen. Instead, the muscles in your neck and lateral ribs do all the work.
To find out how you breathe, lie flat on your back on the floor and place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen. If you feel your torso rising and falling while you breathe, you are a chest breather. You are an abdominal breather if you feel your tummy going up and down.
You can train yourself to become an abdominal breather. Lie on your back on the floor, and place both hands on your stomach. Concentrate on your hands, and discipline yourself to breathe using only your abdominal region. While breathing, your abdomen and your chest should expand. Avoid filling your lungs until they hurt. This means that you are breathing too deeply, which can lead to hyperventilation and dizziness.
Breathing to promote relaxation
If in times of stress or pain you feel yourself breathing faster than normal (which can cause hyperventilation), practice a simple breathing technique. Take a breath, count to seven and exhale slowly, then count to seven before taking another breath. In no time, your breathing will return to normal.
If you are breathing hard after exercising, bend over and place your hands on your knees while taking deep breaths. After five breaths, reposition your hands three inches above your knees and take five more shallow breaths. Your breathing will soon return to normal.
Shoes for better posture
If you are suffering from back pain or pain in your calves, knees or hips, your footwear might be to blame. Wearing shoes is preferable to walking barefoot, and wearing a low heel is better than wearing completely flat shoes with little or no support.
Well-designed shoes can improve your posture dramatically by evenly distributing your weight. If you like wearing sneakers, be sure they have sufficient cushioning and shock absorption in the heel section, especially if you do a lot of walking or running. Unsuitable exercise footwear can lead to damage in your feet, knees, hips and back.
Breathing and posture for better health are worth paying attention to. While breathing is automatic, when you do it the right way, your reward will be better posture.