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IMGCA Article - Breath Control


Students - Breathe Your Way to Better Learning

Royane Real

Guess what action you've performed more often than any other in your life? Is it eating? Sleeping? Crying? Laughing? No! Give up? It's breathing! You've been breathing pretty much non-stop since you were born, with few exceptions.

So with all those years of practice you probably think you've figured out how to do it properly by now. Would it surprise you to learn that your breathing technique was probably better when you were an infant than it is today?

Watch the way a baby breathes when it's lying on its back. The baby's little abdomen moves up and down with each breath, going up when the baby breathes in, and down when the baby breathes out.

This action is caused by the diaphragm, a powerful muscle located below the chest cavity. It is the movement of the diaphragm that pumps air in and out of the lungs.

Take a few moments to observe the way you are breathing, right now, without changing the way you are doing it.

Notice which parts of your body move as you breathe. Which parts of your body are not moving? Is the top part of your chest filling up with air while your lower chest and abdomen remains motionless?

Where do you feel tense? Are your shoulders slumped over or caved in? Do your shoulders move up and down as you breathe in and out?

If your shoulders move up and down as you breathe, you are introducing a lot of unnecessary and ineffective tension into your body. You are also wasting a lot of muscular effort performing an inefficient movement. Your shoulders are not designed to pump air in and out of your lungs.

Remember that it is your diaphragm that powers your breathing. If you don't know where your diaphragm is, it is located approximately below the bottom of your ribcage, beneath your lungs and above your stomach and intestines.

If your breathing fills up and expands the top third of your lungs while the lower two-thirds do not move, you are not taking oxygen into your body very effectively.

This is a bad habit that many adults have developed. You can eventually end up over-expanding the air-sacs in the top third of your lungs, while those in the bottom part of your lungs never fill up properly.

Although we have wonderful breathing techniques as babies, we often develop bad habits and accumulate physical and emotional tensions as we grow older. These can eventually impede our breathing and our overall body and brain effectiveness.

Short changing your body on oxygen will hurt your brain more than any other organ. Remember that this three-pound organ can require as much as 20 to 25% of your body's oxygen supply!

If you are a student who is studying, your brain cells need to have an adequate supply of oxygen. When you don't breathe properly, your brain cells can't function at their best, and you won't be as good a learner as you could be.

To increase your ability to think clearly and concentrate, make certain you are avoiding some of the worst breathing disrupters. If your shoulders are hunched forward you diminish your breathing capacity. If only the top part of your chest is filling up, you are not making use of all the cells in the lower part of your lungs that are desperate to take in some air for you.

Put your hands on the lower part of your ribcage, one on each side. As you breathe in and out, can you feel whether your lungs are filling and pushing outward near the bottom? Or is all the movement at the top of your chest?

Lie down and practice breathing the way a baby does. Allow your body and mind to become very relaxed and let your abdomen move up and down freely. You may have to give yourself mental instructions to relax your shoulders, chest and abdomen as you breathe.

Spend some time becoming familiar with this sense of bodily relaxation. Try to remember the sensation of breathing smoothly and freely.

When you breathe in and out, do you make a smooth transition from your in-breath to your out-breath? Do you notice that you sometimes stop your breath? Learn to avoid this habit. Holding your breath, unless it is a part of a deliberate breathing technique can result in difficulty paying attention while you learn.

For most learning purposes what works best is a very smooth, relaxed, and flowing in-and-out breath with no pauses. If you want to slow down your brain waves while you take in new information, you can count slowly and smoothly while you breathe in and out rhythmically.

For example, breathe in smoothly while you count to four, and breathe out smoothly to the count of four. You may relax even more effectively by breathing in to the count of four, and breathing out to a count of six or eight.

Do this easily without straining, for a few minutes before you start to study. Don't pause between your in-breath and your out- breath; make the transition smooth and flowing.

Each time you are faced with a learning situation, take the time to check your breathing. Be sure you are relaxed and your breath is flowing smoothly.

When you breathe more smoothly, with less tension, your brain cells will be better able to get the oxygen they need for you to be a better student!

This article is written by Royane Real, author of the new book "How You Can Be Smarter -- Use Your Brain to Learn Faster, Remember Better, and Be More Creative" To learn more about how to look after your brain better, download it today at

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