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Did you know that when you don't breathe right, it can make you feel sad or nervous? But we often assume that breathing is the easiest thing in the world. That's the problem. It's so easy that we don't notice our breath. Girls usually are good breathers, but as they grow, stress can cause wimpy breathing. Here's the lowdown--help a friend or a grown-up learn how to breathe better for better health.

The Party in your Chest

Let's look at how breathing works. Think of your lungs as two balloons inside your ribcage. When you breathe in (inhale), you bring air into your lungs, blowing up the balloons for the party. With each breath out (exhaling), the party is over and the balloons shrink. Take a deep breath and watch your ribs expand as your lungs get bigger.

Underneath your lungs is your diaphragm, which looks like a popcorn bowl spilled at a party. It's an upside-down U-shape. Put your hand on your belly and breathe in. When you inhale, your belly should move out. Then the diaphragm can do its job--which is to move down to make space for fresh air. When you exhale, your belly should move in so the diaphragm can push the air up and out. Here's where lots of people get confused.

Breathing Backwards

As girls (and boys) get older, they may join adults in making two main breathing mistakes. One is reverse breathing, which means their bellies move in on the inhale and out on the exhale. The diaphragm can't move like it's supposed to, so there is less space for the breath. Put your hand on your belly and try to reverse breathe. Notice a difference?

The second mistake is shallow breathing--taking breaths that show slight movement in the chest and no movement in the belly. With both types of faulty breathing, not as much clean air gets into the body. Why is this a problem?

Pump Up the Volume

The air we breathe contains oxygen, which is like music at a party. You can't see it, but you can't have a party without it. Like music, oxygen gives us energy and makes us happy. It also cleans our blood and feeds our brains. When people don't breathe properly, they don't get enough oxygen. Their brains say DANGER! They begin to feel nervous because the body thinks it's in trouble. They also may feel tired, sad, or grumpy.

Stress, such as worry about school or a friendship, can cause shallow breathing. Girls and women may suffer more than males from another major cause of bad breathing: Many females think they look fat when their bellies move out.

Sat Hari Kaur Khalsa, who wrote The Ins and Outs of Breathing, says that when she was 10 she thought it looked weird when her belly pushed out while inhaling, so she tried to hold it in. The media images of ultra-thin women (often they are fake, altered images) can trick us into thinking our bellies should be flat and tight. But actually, it's normal and natural for girls to have rounded bellies--especially if they're breathing correctly. A tummy needs to be relaxed in order to inhale properly.

Over time, wimpy breathing becomes a habit, so even when people aren't stressed, they don't take a full breath. And sadly, many girls and women unconsciously train themselves to hold in their stomachs so that they rarely get the full intake of oxygen they need to fully fuel their bodies ana brains!

Teach the Better Breath

Here's how to teach a friend or adult to breathe. Ask your partner to lie down. Ask them to put one hand on their chest and the other on their belly.

1. Ask them to take in air through their nose all the way down into their belly (breathing through your nose filters the air). Ask them to exhale through their nose. Make sure their belly moves out on the inhale and in on the exhale.

2. Have them inhale through their nose just into their ribcage (not into their belly). The lower ribs should move out to the sides as the lungs fill up. Now they can exhale.

3. Have them breathe through their nose just into their upper chest (not into their ribcage or belly). They'll feel their hand rise on their chest. Exhale.

Now put all three steps together. Deep breathing is like pouring a glass of water. We fill up the bottom first. Ask your partner to inhale through their nose and fill their belly, then their ribcage, and finally their upper chest. When we exhale, it's like pouring the water out of the glass. The water at the top comes out first. Ask them to let the air out of their upper chest first, then their ribcage, and then belly.

That's one proper breath. Now we can make each one a healthy breath--and enjoy the rewards.

Kelley Powell is a yoga teacher in Ottawa, Canada. She has worked to prevent violence against women in Laos and in Canada, and is the author of The Merit Birds, a novel set in Laos.

Party Game Sat Hari suggests this better breathing game.

* Put a piece of a healthy dessert in front of you, and another in front of a friend or grown-up. Stick a candle in each piece and light them.

* Exhale through your mouths, but don't blow the candles out. Make the flames dance with your breath. Count how many seconds it takes you to exhale.

* Inhale through your nose for the same amount of time as you exhale.

* Exhale and try to make the candles flicker longer. Try to increase the length of each exhale. Make sure the time spent inhaling is the same amount of time as you spend exhaling.

* Finally, blow out the candles and eat your desserts! But before you do, make a wish for a lifetime of deep breaths and happy lungs.

Stressed? Get out your breathing toolbox! Emphasizing exhaling slows our heartbeats and relaxes our bodies. Here's something you can do at your school desk or even in the middle of a conversation.

Simply inhale through your nose for a count of four seconds. Then exhale through your nose for a count of six seconds.

Keep going for at least a minute. The longer you do it, the more relaxed you'll feel.

By Kelley Powell

Illustration by Gaia Orion
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Author:Powell, Kelley
Publication:New Moon Girls
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2019
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