Our breathing system is comprised by, the upper airways:
Nose, Mouth, Pharynx, Larynx (section above the folds).
And lower airways:
Larynx (section bellow the folds), Trachea, Bronchus and Lungs.
The lungs are complex and have a lot to it, but I believe its not necessary to detail it more than that. The lungs are NOT empty sacs of flesh though.
During inhaling the following happens:
The lungs are in equal pressure with the outside air;
The vocal folds open to allow the air inside;
The diaphragm contracts, depressing into the abdominal cavity;
The abdominal contents are compressed, this bulges the anterior abdominal wall (your belly);
The external intercostals, and some fibers of the internal intercostals contracts, expanding the ribcage;
On more demanding situations, accessory muscles like the Sternocleidomastoid and the Scalene muscles contract, expanding the very upper part of the ribcage;
All these actions, cause the volume of thoracic cavity increase, decreasing the internal pressure;
This decreases the internal pressure of the lungs in relation to the open air;
The result is airflow, filling up the lungs, and balancing the pressure with the outside air again;
Breathing is a function of our bodies that is both part of the autonomous system, as well as can be controlled at will. And due to several social and psychological factors, its normal to have the habitual use of accessory muscle coordination more than the primary functions.
Its not like you don’t use your diaphragm. No, the diaphragm is always participating (if you are healthy, there are conditions where the diaphragm is paralyzed).
But rather, its use is minimized, as well as that of the intercostal muscles. The reason is simple, expanding the ribcage upwards will prevent the belly from coming out, and will keep the lower area of the thorax relatively small. This fits better the aesthetic expectation of the society, at least on the mind of the person.
So the first step, is getting out of your own way. To do so, lets fool your body:
– Take a piece of paper, and spray your favorite perfume on it;
– Release the air you have currently;
– Smell the paper, focus on feeling the fragrance and identifying well the scent;
– Repeat it a few times keeping your focus on the fragrance;
– After a few repetitions, do it again but pay attention on how you are drawing in the air to do the task;
– If your belly is coming out slightly, if your ribcage expands/opens, and, there is no clavicular or shoulder movement, this is what using the primary muscles feel like.
– Again, release all the air inside you;
– This time, hold it out, don’t inhale back;
– Keep holding until you get the sensation of air hunger;
– After the urge to inhale builds up a bit, just let it happen, don’t try to inhale, simply let your body do what it wants;
– Notice how the reflex quickly draws air in, you will feel a displacement downwards, and some expansion of the ribcage to the sides, also the primary muscles in action.
These are references. Repeating this will not develop control.
To develop control:
– Do one of the references that works best for you (you can even search for other references if you feel these are not helping);
– NOTICE how the action of the muscles feels like;
– After you are secure about it, try to replicate it at will;
– Go back to the reference from time to time, to make sure you are doing it properly;
After you can replicate it with some ease, do exercises inhaling in this manner:
– Get a metronome at 60 bpm, and inhale during the count of 4;
– Vary the metronome speed, and practice slower and faster inhale motions;
– Aim to make the movement smooth and constant;
– Notice that controlling your breath in this manner is very relaxing.
I must caution that if you have low blood pressure, doing these exercises may make you a bit dizzy. So if its your case, its best to have someone around you, or at least in the house with you, in the first times you attempt it in the case you pass out (some people do).