On the surface, belly breathing seems like a no-brainer: Breathe in, letting your belly rise, then breathe out. Repeat. But according to corrective exercise specialist Eric Beard, many people don’t do the practice correctly.
Belly breathing — a common stress-reduction technique that may sound familiar if you’ve ever taken a yoga or meditation class — can reap a long list of benefits. Among them, Beard tells Yahoo Health: lower blood pressure, better sleep, fewer aches and pains, and stronger abdominal muscles.
On the other hand, Beard says, “poor execution of breathing techniques can lead to muscle tightness in the neck, chest, and upper back, as well as headaches, increased levels of stress, and poor posture.”
Here are the two most common mistakes Beard sees — and how to remedy each one:
1. You’re moving your chest too much (or not enough)
In a perfect breath, the diaphragm (a muscle beneath your lungs) expands and makes your lower abdomen rise. If your belly doesn’t move very much, you’re not using your diaphragm enough, Beard says. In addition, as the movement of the diaphragm fills your lungs with air, your chest expands. So people who try to move only the belly but not the chest aren’t breathing properly, either.
The fix: While lying down, place the thumb of your right hand in your belly button and the palm and fingers on your lower abdomen. Rest your left hand on the top of your chest, below your collarbone. Now take a few long, deep breaths. Both hands should raise upward, but your right hand should move much more, Beard says. To practice proper breathing, think of pushing your right hand up toward the sky with your belly.