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Lesson 1: Breathe

I’m guessing some of you think I’m completely insane. Everyone knows how to breathe! WTF? I thought the same thing. I had over 45 years of breathing experience and at 200,000 breaths per day that’s over 3 billion breaths in my lifetime. I’m still alive so I must know what I’m doing!

Chest vs. Diaphragm Breathing

The truth is my name is Susan and I’m a chest breather. Most of my life I’ve been breathing air into my chest. Those of you who are athletes, singers, or yogis already know the value of using the diaphragm to breathe. It’s this whole extra cavity we can fill with oxygen. Basic biology tells us the more oxygen we get to our cells, the more energy we have, the better we feel, the better our brains function, the easier it is to move. The key to using the diaphragm is to fill the diaphragm up with air first and then the lungs. Even more oxygen can get into your body if you allow your stomach to rise when it fills with air and then push the air out with your stomach muscles so there’s plenty of room for fresh oxygen with the next breath.

Benefits of Diaphragm Breathing

For those of you who don’t like to breathe with your diaphragm because your belly sticks out on the in breath…get over yourself! In the beginning my stomach pooched out but after some time my belly was flatter. So for those of you working on that 6-pack ab or a strong core, the diaphragm is a core muscle and if we don’t use it we breathe in less oxygen and get a bigger belly.

When I first started using my diaphragm to breathe I started by sitting in a chair and placed a hand on my stomach and the other on my chest to make sure that my stomach would rise before my chest. Once I got the hang of it, I started incorporating it into my low-intensity exercises (stretching, yoga, walking) and then into high intensity exercise.

Benefits of Nose Breathing

In addition to using your diaphragm while breathing, I also recommend you breathe in and out of your nose. Mouth breathing triggers the stress hormone cortisol. In small quantities, cortisol is what gives us energy in the morning to get out of bed or exercise at the gym and in large quantities it helps give us the energy to run out of a burning building or run away from a grizzly bear. The downside of cortisol is it can cause weight gain. In times of stress our bodies are designed to shut down digestion and store any nutrients as fat in our adipose tissue.

Nose breathing has the opposite effect. It lowers stress levels and improves digestion so more nutrients get to your cells and power your mind and body.

Perhaps some of you are like me pre-NPTI. You’ve heard this stuff before but didn’t really pay attention. I always figured it wouldn’t make that much of a difference so I didn’t waste my time. Instead I kept doing my bootcamps and watched my mental and physical health decline. Today, I’m doing it differently and finding it works.

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