Feeling a bit stressed? Take a breather with us – we’re re-learning how to breathe with Aimee Hartley, founder of The Breathing Room and the School Breathe programme for children. Follow the steps in the below excerpt from her book Breathe Well to become aware of your body as it inhales and exhales, and to get back to a ‘healthy belly breath’.

You breathe, on average, around 17,000 times a day (one breath = an inhale and an exhale). If you’re one of the lucky ones, and make it to the grand old age of 85, you will have around 520 million breaths to enjoy throughout your lifetime. Breathing is your very first, and will be your last, life experience. And everything in between.

Healthy belly breath

When describing a full, healthy breath, I often choose the image of a toddler walking around with a big rounded belly. We can visualize the diaphragm descending fully on an inhalation, gently moving the lower organs down, which creates an unapologetic protruding of the lower belly. The entire torso moves freely with each breath and there’s no muscular tension. You will never see toddlers pulling in their stomachs for photogenic purposes!

What takes away our ‘healthy’ breath?

Many aspects of our lives can impact negatively on the way we breathe. From traumatic birth experiences, unsettled family environments, the pressure to achieve the perfect figure (pulling in our bellies can trigger feelings of anxiety), to unhealthy living and working environments and the quality of the food we eat, our lifestyle can take its toll on our ability to breathe well.

How do we learn to breathe well?

The foundation of any breath practice should be re-establishing how to breathe in a full, healthy way. Subconsciously, we all know how to breathe well, we just need to spend a little more time developing a practice to remind ourselves how. This is what is should feel like:

– Inhaling through the nose, the diaphragm descends and the belly, lower torso and lower back expand softly and fully. There should be a silent, effortless quality to the breath.

– During the inhalation there can be an awareness of the pelvic diaphragm descending in unison with the respiratory diaphragm.

– The ribs expand in east and west direction.

– The upper chest and upper back lift slightly near the peak of the inhalation.

– On exhaling, the air should exit via the nose, and the belly returns to its resting position in a calm manner.

– The ribs will return to resting position as the lungs deflate.

– The upper chest will also return to its rest position.

– The rhythm of the breath should be flowing with no holding on. The inhalation should feel expansive, energising and effortless. The exhale should be silent and smooth. A full, healthy breath should feel graceful and enlivening. The breath should support a perfect posture and vice versa.

Author portrait by Nick Cunard.