I’VE ALWAYS BEEN an A student, which is why it was deflating when I got a D (a D!) on the most basic of assignments: breathing. After monitoring my inhalations and exhalations, clinical psychologist Belisa Vranich, author of Breathe, gave me the near-failing grade on this most basic of bodily functions, with one small consolation: nine out of 10 people are just as bad at it as I am. Turns out most adults are shoulder breathers – when we inhale, our shoulders rise and engage the upper back muscles. This type of vertical breathing only makes space for air in the narrowest top part of the lungs, says Vranich. It’s the opposite of how the body was designed to breathe, and such shallow breaths actually send danger signals to the nervous system, spiking stress hormones.
The result? ‘Your heart rate goes up, your blood pressure goes up and your immune system goes down,’ says Vranich. Yup – even if you’re in the middle of a massage or sitting on the couch, watching the hilarious Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. You may be laughing, but your body thinks you’re stressed out.
The trouble starts in primary school. Most very young kids are horizontal breathers, says Vranich. When they inhale, it looks like there’s a balloon in their belly: air expands the biggest part of their lungs. Once in the classroom, they pick up the bad posture that comes with sitting down all day – and slum