There are many easy ways to transition to a healthier lifestyle such as the universal methods of proper dietary regulation and the incorporation of regular physical activity into one's schedule. Beyond these two foundational steps there are endless subsets of self-betterment that build upon those basic ideas, whether they be physical activities, mental exercises, or both (such as yoga).
But even before diet and exercise, there is a simpler form of foundational health improvement that many overlook: proper breathing.
Even for those who've never had to deal with asthma or another form of breathing impairment, becoming aware of proper breathing can dramatically shift one's ability to relax, concentrate, and function overall. Many forms of stress relief, including most types of meditation, begin with even, conscious breathing. This isn't a coincidence; breathing that is too shallow can leave a person light headed, or feeling anxious. Similarly, too much deep breathing can put stress on the airways and lungs. And if a bad-breathing habit has been fostered for years it is difficult to correct it without a conscious and consistent effort.
Bad-breathing manifests in a variety of forms. The types listed above, deep harsh breathing and shallow ineffectual breaths, are only a few of many problematic signs. Other issues may include loud breathing such as snorting, sniffling, or coughing, arrhythmic breathing, and frequent mouth-breathing. If any of these types are acting as part of a regular breathing cycle, corrections can be made to prevent discomfort or further damage. Failure to correct bad-breathing can lead to low energy, poor concentration, dizziness, and of course a shortage of oxygen which impacts every function of the body.
The most basic methods of improving a breathing cycle begin with rhythm. Counting on inhales, exhales, and pauses can help stabilize irregularities. Taking five minutes out of the day to breathe in for 2-3 seconds, breathe out for 3-4 seconds, and pause for 2-3 seconds in-between encourages both a regular rhythm as well as increased relaxation. Such breathing should be done through the nose and can be tried in any location. At work, the breathing can be done while sitting in an upright, relaxed, position. And at home, lying down and extending the breathing up to ten or twenty minutes a session can only be more beneficial. Wherever the breathing is done, practicing it regularly is key, remembering that if done properly it can reduce mental and physical tension.
Picking up a new activity like yoga or joining a meditation group are commitments that many people cannot fit into their regular day plans. Taking that five minutes of breathing and trying it twice a day for a week is an alternative that reaps similar benefits without having to budget for time. Additionally, keeping a regular breathing cycle can prevent panic attacks, anxiety, and even lessen the effects of heartburn.
Just like the other foundations of health, once these methods have been practiced they can be applied to situations outside of basic relaxation-breathing. For instance, learning how to breathe regularly is vital in all types of hobbies and sport. Bad-breathing in these situations negatively affect endurance and can hinder steady improvement. Public speaking, acting, and singing can also be improved with proper breath manipulation as projecting one's voice and preventing a stammer are both related to breathing steadily from the diaphragm.
For most people, the only time they're aware of their breathing is when there's something wrong with it. Learning how to consciously regularize one's breathing can prepare the body for future respiratory complications, and further prevent a mental inability to cope with problematic developments.