This article originally featured at Sixty and Me

One of the most significant functions I check with new clients is their breathing patterns. As a result, I often find people take short, shallow breaths. They may also hold their breath when performing a strenuous task.

What Can Contribute to Dysfunctional Breathing?

There are many variable situations, but here are some of the most common factors when it comes to dysfunctional breathing:

  • Sitting hunched over at desks.
  • Chronic pain.
  • Stress, anxiety, and mental health conditions.
  • Repetitive movement over long periods of time.
  • Medium to heavy lifting.

How Do I Know If I Am Shallow Breathing?

Lay on your back in a comfortable position and place your hands on your lower ribcage. As you take a breath in, feel your ribcage expand gently, and then as you exhale, it should contract. If your belly moves but not your ribcage, this indicates shallow breathing.

Try this: As you inhale, think about sending your breath all the way down into your lower belly. Then let your belly contract as you exhale.

What About Chest Breathing?

Lay on your back placing one hand on your chest, the other on your belly. Inhale and exhale gently. If your chest moves, but not your belly, this is a sign of only breathing into your chest.

Try this: Place your hand on your belly and imagine your hand is a boat. Inhale, and imagine the boat lifting as a wave of water washes over it, then as you exhale, the boat lowers and the wave disperses.

Is Holding Your Breath Good for You?

If you perform an exercise, like picking up a heavy basket, notice how you breathe as you lift the basket. Did you hold your breath? I often see this with first time clients, and we work on reversing this incorrect breathing pattern. It can take time and patience to get it right.

But why is it not recommended? When we hold our breath, we can build up what we call intra-abdominal pressure within our belly and pelvis. This can cause our pelvic floor to bear downwards, putting pressure on our pelvic organs.

Try this: Next time you need to lift something heavy, inhale first and exhale as you perform the task. For instance, inhale while preparing to lift heavy grocery bags, then exhale as you lift them. You will feel better and have more power.

Check out my video tutorial below:

Who would have thought breathing was such a difficult thing to get right? We do it day in and day out. Yet somehow, and for differing reasons, we can forget to breathe efficiently.

For many women who have had children, the synergy between their diaphragm and pelvic floor needs to be re-trained due to the ordeal of pregnancy and birthing which can result in “core amnesia.” This is common and with support and breathing exercises from a Women’s health physiotherapist can improve.

Would you like to learn more about integrating the pelvic floor into movement and exercise to support you to retrain your core system? Join us for the free mini series “Is your pelvic floor holding you back?”

Are you breathing the correct way? When did you notice you were not breathing right? What effect has shallow breathing had on your body? Have you tried breathing exercises? Which ones have helped you? 

About the Author

Rachelle is the founder of MEE Active where she helps people step off the sidelines of life and into a life they love. A certified Female Health and Performance coach, as well as movement and rehabilitation specialist, she enjoys teaching women about the connection between their mind and body. Find her at