Breathing is our most important act – we do it every moment of our lives, some 20,000 times each day. Breathing incorrectly can produce tension, exhaustion and vocal strain, and can interfere with athletic activity and encourage aches and illnesses. Breathing correctly, however, nourishes every fiber of our body and soul. Breathe correctly and you can melt away tension and stress, improve energy or simply relax and unwind.

The opposite of effective abdominal deep breathing is shallow breathing. How do you know if your breathing is shallow? If you lift you shoulders when you inhale or audibly gasp for air when you speak, you are probably breathing incorrectly. To find out if you are a shallow breather, try this simple test: Put your palms against your lower abdomen and blow out all the air. Now, take a big breath. If your abdomen expands when you inhale and air seems to flow in deeply to the pit of your stomach, you’re on the right track.

However, if your lower abdomen expands when you exhale and compresses when you inhale, you are a shallow breather. Pulling in your stomach as you inhale creates tension and wasted energy. Squeezing the abdomen pushes the diaphragm upward, minimizing your lungs’ capacity, simultaneously pushing and fighting against the inflow of every breath. While one is young and in apparent good health, these bits of wanted effort and restrained oxygen intake may not seem apparent, but in time, exhaustion and tension will take their toll on your mental, physical and emotional well-being.

Physical posture and physical texture both greatly affect breathing. In other words, if you have perfect posture and are as stiff as a marble statue, proper breathing is not possible. We need to texture our body so that it is flexible, soft and supple. A good, relaxed posture represents a more receptive container into which air can flow deeply and fully. In today’s busy times, we all have to deal with stress is various forms. Here is an imagery exercise to condition and facilitate your body for correct deep breathing, to reduce tension and to promote energy:

Stand erect but relaxed, being careful not to tilt or lower your head. Imagine yourself to be an upside-down old fashion eyedropper with the glass tube pointing upward. Squeeze the bulb (your abdomen), and air is squeezed out. Released the bulb, letting it expand, and air is drawn into your abdomen. Imagine that the opening tip of the glass tube ends where the back of the nose and the throat meet. Let air flow in and out through this central opening, not simple through the mouth or nose alone. Exhale as you squeeze the bulb. Inhale as you let the bulb expand. (Do not let your shoulders be involved in the breathing process. You lungs are the air containers; your abdomen is the pump. Your shoulders must not be pumping, but should be relaxed and draping comfortably, as if on a hanger.) You have just experienced abdominal deep breathing in its basic form. Practice this to overcome shallow breathing, to relax and to reduce stress – and breathe your way to improved performance, health and well-being.

Author's Bio: 

Nancy Zi is the author of The Art of Breathing. She is an internationally known classical singer and voice teacher. American born, raised in China, and with a bi-cultural education, Zi weaves together the best of ancient Eastern disciplines with modern Western techniques.

Additional Resources on Breathing can be found at:

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Nancy Zi, Official Guide to Breathing