There are around 7.6 billion people in the world and, remarkably, even though we share the same air, we each breathe in a completely unique way—the pace, rhythm, and flow of our breath are as distinctive as our thumbprint.
It’s helpful (and enlightening for many) to discover the characteristics of our unique breath pattern. Sometimes we need the eye of a fully trained breath worker to analyze and make sense of this pattern, helping to identify anything that might be having a negative impact on us. But luckily, we can discover much on our own.
The first step: Breathe!
Get as comfortable as possible. Sit or lie down, allowing the body to feel supported, either with cushions or pillows. It’s important to simply observe the breath and resist the urge to consciously change the way you breathe in any way at this point.
Gently place one hand on your lower belly (a couple of inches below the belly button) and the other on the upper chest (just below the collarbone). Take a few breaths. Where does the breath enter and leave your body? Through the nose or mouth? Simply watch where your body moves more on the inhale. The lower abdomen or upper chest? Take a few more breaths here to deepen your research.
Then, you can discover your own unique breathing pattern. Here’s what the four common types mean:
1. Lower belly breather.
Is your lower belly rising on the inhalation, more than in the upper chest? This can be indicative that you are a lower belly breather. This means that the diaphragm is engaged, which is a healthy foundation for the breath. Expanding the breath more into the upper chest will allow you to feel more energetic and connect more deeply with your emotions.
2. Upper chest breather.
Upper chest rising more than the belly on the inhalation? This can indicate that you are an upper chest breather. You may have the tendency to feel energetic, full of inspiration, but you find it hard to focus and feel grounded. Establishing a breath that is more in the lower respiratory zone (pelvic diaphragm) will help you to feel less anxious, more grounded, and more in the present moment.
3. Reverse breather.
Is your belly sucking in and upper chest rising on an inhalation? This suggests you could be a reverse breather. This means everything is a bit topsy-turvy. Not to panic, though, there are plenty of breath exercises to help you re-establish a healthy diaphragmatic breath. Re-engaging the pelvic floor, abdominal muscles, and diaphragm to work in a healthy way can help you feel calmer, more present, and less anxious.
4. Free-flowing breather.
Breath equal in both parts of the upper and lower chest? If you are breathing fully and there is no extensive breath-holding happening between breaths, this is good news! If the breath is free-flowing and fills the entire torso on the inhalation and feels expansive and effortless, and on your exhale there is a sense of ease on letting go, then you are on your way to a fuller breath. There’s always room for improvement, though!
Adapted from Breathe Well: Easy and Effective Techniques To Boost Energy, Feel Calmer, More Focused and Productive by Aimee Hartley, Kyle Books.