Many of us are shallow breathers and we don’t even realize it. Shallow breathing is the act of breathing more from the chest area not the diaphragm. If you are breathing properly, your diaphragm (lower rib cage/upper belly) should rise as you inhale and contract as you exhale. Shallow breathing can rob your body of the precious oxygen it craves resulting in low energy, depression, sluggish brain, and health problems like sleep disorders, heart troubles and other diseases. Because you don’t expel enough carbon dioxide when you breathe improperly you don’t sufficiently rid your body of toxins, which can contribute to illnesses. Here are a few exercises that can help you get the most out of your breath!

Diaphragm/Abdominal Breathing Exercise:
Start out by lying down on the floor. Place a facial tissue box on your stomach. Focus on making the box rise up when you inhale and lower down when you exhale. Take slow deep breaths and relax. Practice this for a few minutes every day. If you get lightheaded, stop. When you have mastered this lying down, progress to working seated in a chair or while standing (but without the tissue box). Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your lower rib cage (upper belly/above naval). Keep the hand on your chest free of movement while the hand on your stomach moves up and down. This may be difficult at first and take some practice.

Lung Expansion Exercise:
Sit or stand with good posture for this exercise. Place one hand on your chest and the other hand just below your rib cage (above the naval). Begin with a nice deep cleansing breath. Now inhale through your nose for 7 counts (feeling the stomach muscles rise). Exhale for the count of eight (feeling the stomach muscles contract). Take a normal breath before you start another round. Repeat for 5 cycles. When those counts become easy try to work your counts higher (inhale 8 & exhale 9, etc.). You can also do this exercise by starting at a lower number and working each cycle higher. For example: Round one is 4 & 5, round two is 5 & 6, round three is 6 & 7, (etc.).

Anxiety Reducer:
Stress and anxiety can easily cause us to become chest breathers. Here is a simple technique you can try. You’ll be amazed at how quickly this works! Sit with good posture. Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Inhale deeply through your nose for 4 counts. Hold your breath for 6 counts. Release your tongue and exhale through your mouth for 8 counts. Take a couple of normal breaths and repeat as needed. When you are upset, you may find it difficult to exhale for the entire 8 counts. Try your best to reach that goal.

Tight chest muscles can result in poor posture and restricted breathing. Here are some simple stretches you can try. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds while taking deep, relaxing breaths.

Door Frame Press:
Stand in front of a doorway. Place your arms out shoulder level with elbows bent. Place your elbows and forearms on the doorframe. Press your upper body through the door opening for a stretch. Start at chest level and gradually work your arms up the doorway.

Pinch Back:
Place hands on lower back. Make sure your shoulders are down (away from ears). Press your elbows back as you press your chest forward. Focus on pinching your shoulder blades together.

Table Stretch:
Use a table or kitchen counter. Hinge forward at the waist and place your arms with palms down toward the edge of the table. Assume a flat back position keeping your arms as straight as possible and your neck in a neutral position.

Ball Chest Opener:
Lay on an exercise ball with your head fully supported. Keep your hips up and legs strong. Stretch your arms out at shoulder level. Palms up. Think of reaching through your fingertips as you hold the stretch. Change your arm position (higher or lower) to focus on tight areas. You can also change your position on the ball for a different feel. Move from head supported to middle of your back supported. Placing both arms overhead provides a nice stretch on the ball as well.

Ball Chest Stretch:
Kneel with your exercise ball out in front of you. Push the ball forward until your arms are resting on the ball and you are in a flat back position (modified table position). Keep your neck neutral (eyes face the floor). Can also be done with your knees fully bent and your rear touching your heels.

There are several ways to work on breathing and chest expansion. These are just a few of my favorites. If you have a health condition that restricts breathing or if you have struggled with tight chest muscles, consider working with a personal trainer or a respiratory therapist to obtain a program that is most beneficial for your condition.

Author's Bio: 

Wendy Stoll is a certified personal trainer with over 21 years of experience specializing in designing exercise and weight management programs for women. She travels to your home to make working-out as convenient as possible. Wendy can be reached at (517)303-9413,,