Are you breathing right? 5 ways you might be doing it wrong

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Deep breath
Representational Image

In the many years that we have been alive, breathing will definitely find a place in the list of bodily activity that requires the least of our conscious effort. After all, we have been inhaling and exhaling since day one, right?

Breathing, as you know, is the process of moving air in and out of our lungs. Each day, we breathe about 20,000 times. This supports our cardiovascular, nervous, muscular, digestive, and immune systems. And 70% of toxins exit our body through our breath.

Moreover, we don’t have to think or do something to initiate breathing. It happens on its own just like digestion or the blood being pumped in our body. But we can still voluntarily control it like how we do with our hands and legs.

There are numerous benefits of proper breathing including better health, controlled blood pressure levels, a positive mood, improved memory and strong vocal expression among many others.

What are some signals that you are breathing wrongly?

You might not be aware but your body may have been signaling you that the way you breathe needs a makeover. Here are some of the possible ways your body is telling you that:

1. Been yawning all day?

On a day that yawns keep coming one after the other, we generally tend to try and remember if we were able to (or not) catch a good sleep the night before. Yes, it is true that yawning indicates that we are tired.


But there’s more to a big old yawn. It is also our brain’s way of signaling that enough oxygen is not being received. An average adult breathes around 8-12 times in a minute and you are probably doing less than that on the days your yawns seem to be never-ending.

2. Unconscious teeth grinding

Been grinding those teeth loudly at night during sleep? This is a condition called ‘Sleep Bruxism’ where there is constant and loud grinding and clenching of teeth any time of the day, though it occurs more often at night.

Teeth Grinding

Researchers have found a deep connection between sleep bruxism and sleep apnea (it is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts) because about a quarter of all people with obstructive sleep apnea experience sleep bruxism.

Also, teeth grinding is often accompanied by incorrect breathing as both are proven symptoms of stress.

3. Tightness in the neck and shoulder area

Neck n Shoulder tightness

Up to 80% of us are upper chest breathers, which means we take shallow breaths instead of taking deep breaths, causing the muscles in the neck, shoulders and back to overcompensate, tightening up to allow the body to breathe deeply so that the lungs get more oxygen leading to tightness in that region.

4. Constantly feeling tired

Breathing is the process by which we take in enough oxygen into the bloodstream of our body which is then taken to our organs to function efficiently. Hence, there are no points for guessing how improper breathing leads us to feel tired all day, every day.

Constantly tired

We consider ourselves to be such pros at the art of breathing that most of us have not even considered the possibility that we could be doing it wrong. But there are some things we are doing improperly.

What are the ways we are doing it wrong?

Let’s take a look at the mistakes we are making during this basic process.

The nose is for breathing, the mouth is not

Most of us tend to breathe through our mouths while sleeping or exercising or even at normal times.

Mouth Breathing

Experts say that people usually wake up tired when they sleep with their mouths open. That’s because the mouth movement induces dehydration, which can interrupt your sleep and keeps you from capitalizing those hours you spent sleeping.

In fact, you lose the advantages of breathing through your nose. What’s the big deal, you say? Breathing through the nose increases the efficiency of your lung and blood vessels, as it helps you to absorb nitric oxide, something that doesn’t happen when you inhale through the mouth. Nitric oxide is a molecule that has our body’s trillions of cells communicating to each other so that we don’t get sick, have lower blood pressure and sleep easier. And you definitely don’t want to miss out on those.

Moreover, our tongue is supposed to rest on the roof of our mouth as this can facilitate better breathing and sleep pattern, but those who breathe through their mouth are unable to do this.

You are a ‘belly breather’

Now that we know the importance of breathing through our nose, let us look at the second most common mistake that we all mistake. We breathe with our chests and not our stomach. To understand if you are making the same mistake here is a simple test:

Belly Breathing

Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach. Breathe. The hand on your stomach should be the only hand moving (expanding away from your body) while you take a breath. If you find that the hand on your chest is moving in any direction that means you are breathing through your chest.

You tend not to move the bottom third of your lungs at all as you breathe through the chest wall. The air just reaches till the top of your lung and this could eventually lead to infections at the bottom of your lungs.

Also, while chest breathing your neck and shoulder muscles are activated. And because all of the time you keep breathing like this, those muscles are continuously stimulated. They never get to rest and cause the tightness that we told you about.

Trying to breathe while slouching

Most of us spend hours sitting in slouched positions which may be in front of a laptop for work or for entertainment. This can also affect our breathing as a proper posture, especially while sitting, is necessary for the proper volume of air to enter our lungs. Sitting slouched means that our diaphragm faces restrictions to expand while breathing.

Slouched sitting

Are you sleeping on your back?

This is a relatively easy one. You compress your airway more than you need when you sleep on your back (because gravity pulls down your throat and abdomen, making it more difficult to breathe), moreover, you weaken your jaw muscles.

Sleeping on your back

This can contribute to the not-so-great habit of breathing through the mouth, and we’ve already addressed why that’s a big no-no. Choose to sleep on your side instead, as it will help you fall asleep faster and keep your lungs open for optimum nose-breathing action.

You are inhaling too much or too little

Yes inhaling too much or too little is possible too and we are doing it.

Deep breath

Deep breaths are a vital part of Yoga exercises and play a bigger role than the mantras in bringing peace.

Hence most of us take really long and deep breaths and wait for it to bring the soothing calmness. But we have news for you. You can reap the benefits of deep breaths only if you do it properly — and if you don’t, you risk exhausting your body and stressing your heart out.

So, what’s the secret to breathing deep? Evidently, just following a 1:2 ratio of inhaling time to exhale time should do the trick and keep your heart rate steady.

Furthermore, a lot of people do not breathe deeply enough when it comes to inhaling oxygen. Proper respiration requires drawing air into the depths of your lungs and pushing down your diaphragm in the process. This increases the amount of blood returning to your chest and is helping to detoxify your body.

So let’s take a deep breath (don’t forget the 1:2 ratio) and set out to make the way we breathe right. Start by setting aside some time to observe and focus on your breathing every day morning before jumping into the chores and tensions of the day. And gradually, do away with these harmful practices.

These are minor mistakes that can be corrected with a little effort but they have the potential to bring in a tremendous change in your daily life. It can help improve your productivity and have happier, healthier days.

But the next time you say, ‘it’s as easy as breathing’ think about it, is it really?