Breath. We take it for granted. The symphony of oxygen navigating throughout our being is somewhat expected. We pause to recognize this ebb-and-flow when it marks the beginning and end of life, and yet somewhere in between it becomes compromised, held, and vertical. We used to breathe horizontally when we were born, with our bellies expanded and diaphragm moving and grooving. But later in life, a multitude of circumstances—including the societal construct of sucking in our guts—caused us to become vertical breathers. If you take a deep breath now and your shoulders rise, and your belly does not expand, chances are that you breathe vertically. When we breathe vertically, this encourages anxiety, depression, PTSD, insomnia, irritable bowel, headaches, fatigue, and an athletic performance unable to reach full potential.
Yes, this sounds an awful lot like the fine print read at the end of a pharmaceutical commercial, but in truth these symptoms plague our nation. If we can retrain our body to breathe as it once did, as it craves to today, then oxygen can renew our cells from the inside out. Fortunately it is possible to do various exercises that can retrain your body to return to its natural state of horizontal breath.
Dr. Belisa Vranich has recognized this unaddressed epidemic of incorrect breathing, and today she is changing the course of history by offering accessible breathing exercises to wellness junkies and Homeland Security personnel alike.
Dr. Belisa grew up practicing Bellows Breath in her living room. Bellows Breath involved pumping her abdominal muscles to usher the breath out and in. This practice was just a part of the warrior mindset she learned from her father, an athlete and military member. Years later, Dr. Belisa was living in NYC, working as a clinical psychologist, and began practicing yoga voraciously to combat stress, which at the time was rearing its head in the form of teeth grinding. The breath of yoga centered her, but she needed to understand the science of why. This journey of discovery lead her to developing The Breathing Class, also known as “14 days to oxygenating, recharging and refueling your body & brain,” as the cover of her book Breathe promises.
I signed up for Dr. Belisa’s Breathing For Warriors class, after a close friend expressed to me that it changed her life, and was joined by 29 athletes at Dynamix MMA in Los Angeles. We began the class by licking a pH strip to determine our individual acidity (6.5-7 is ideal), and then with a measuring tape we determined our Inhale and Exhale Maximizations by wrapping a measuring tape around our backs and underneath our ribcages. The first measurement is the expansion of diaphragm (your inhale) and the second is the contraction of your diaphragm (your exhale).
Next Dr. Belisa commenced a breath hold contest and I held a weak 47 seconds. (45 is normal but by no means ideal). Breath holding and inhale/exhale maximizations determine your scientific baseline of health, also known as your Vital Lung Capacity (VLC). This is a number that predestines our life expectancy and that you can actively improve daily, by practicing the holy grail of breathing exercises below. Within a few hours of practicing these myself, I evolved from 35.1 percent to 185.2 percent (best in the class, I must say!) and I’m actively working to improve my VLC today.
If you’d like to try to beat my record, here’s your guide:
Rock and Roll: Begin in a comfortable seated position with your legs criss-cross-apple-sauce or with knees bent and booty resting on your heels. Place your hands on your belly and as you inhale, rock your hips forward as your belly expands– imagine you’re trying to show off a good lookin’ food baby and forgo any notion of the corset like ideology. As you exhale, your hips rock back and your belly draws in. Think of connecting bellybutton to spine.
- Practice two breaths every hour on the hour to check if you are still breathing horizontally. As an alternative, Rock and Roll before checking a text message or for two minutes four times a day. Repetition of this exercise will allow for you body to breathe horizontally, rather than vertically on its own.
Exhale Pulsations: Once again begin in a comfortable seated position. This time, extend your dominant arm out straight, in front of your mouth, and hold up your pointer finger. Part your lips and begin to ‘blow out the candle’ by exhaling out as your stomach simultaneously contracts inward. The point of holding out your finger, in the beginning, is for you to recognize that there is air coming out rather than your body getting lost in the motion of the exercise. Your body will naturally inhale with this exercise, so your goal is to focus on the exhale and swift contraction of belly to spine.
- Practice 25 of these breaths four times per day, 50 twice a day, or 10 times throughout the day as you remember to do so.
Diaphragm Extensions: Grab a stack of books or 5-25 pound weights and place them on your belly. As you inhale and your belly expands, watch the object rise. As you exhale and your stomach contracts, watch the object drop into the hollowed out space you’ve created.
- After five breaths, move the object two inches up on your stomach. After an additional five breaths, move the object to your left and side body. You are actively stretching your diaphragm!
Last but certainly not least, share these exercises with those you love. A world of horizontal breathers is a happier and healthier place.