Why You Need to Breathe Right RIGHT NOW, SOLDIER!

Even if you’ve never been in the military (I haven’t) you’vee probably seen a war movie or two. You know the bit when the new recruit turns up for his first fay of basic training and some big goon of a drill sergeant comes charging down the line of recurits, telling them: Shoulders back! Chest out! Gut in! Stand straight!

Yeah, that bit. You know it, right?

Well, I always thought that it was just for the sake of getting everyone in a uniform pose, the start of breaking them down and remaking them into soldiers.

Turns out, though, that drill instructor, whether he knew it or not, was actually trying to get those recruits to do something properly that they may never have done right before, something so basic that they likely never even noticed or thought about it.


Did you know how much hard work breathing right is? When you start focusing on that little trampoline at the bottom of your sternum – the bone in the middle of your chest where your ribs meet up – and making sure you’re using it when you breathe, boy do your back and the bottom of your chest get sore.

It’s no wonder people don’t do it so much – and why those drill instructors have to drill it into you, make you more afraid of them than you are a sore back.

But lately, I’ve started focusing on it. It’s one of a few basic changes I’ve been making lately since I actually started noticing how anxious I get, including cutting down on sugary treats.

I’m focusing on breathing because it helps get me out of feeling miserable about past mistakes and stressing about future ones. I’ve not stopped yet – that’s going to take some serious habit-replacing (I’m thinking of adding “meditation” to my list of daily habits now that I’ve got daily chin-ups in there) – but I feel like I’m making progress.

And since I started making sure I’m breathing right, I noticed that my posture changes – my shoudlers go back, my chest comes out, my gut comes in – although it pushes out some when I breathe in, which I’m given to understand is right and proper so long as it tucks back in when I breathe out.

No, this isn't my morning chin-up routine.
No, this isn’t my morning chin-up routine.

Just like all those big, mean gorillas in the army keep telling those green-as-grass recruits to do.

It also does wonders for my sense of awareness. While I don’t have tunnel vision, I have this horrid tendency to go on autopilot while my brain goes rusiung off somewhere else. It means that all I see is what’s immediately in front of me.

When I’m breathing, though, I notice that my field of vision expands. I start taking in things all the way out to the corners of my eyes; it feels like I’m actually moving through the world instead of just going where I’m going (and being somewhere else in my head).

Which is why the drill isntructors want to make sure you’re doing that right before you learn anything else – awareness is likely the most vital attribute in combat.

If you want to check your breathing without having to join the army and have someone yell at you (then make you do more push-ups than you’ve ever doen in your life before) until you get it right, here’s a handy trick that a drama teacher gave me:

Place your fingers on the soft part right beneath your sternum. That’s a part of your diaphragm.

When you breathe in, try to actually push your fingers out with your diaphragm, as though your fingers are you and that soft part is a trampoline throwing you into the air.

The idea is to keep your ribs as still as possible whilst letting your diaphragm and your gut do the work.

While I try to make this an “about me” blog instead of explicitly giving tips, I’d like to offer this to you: If you’re having problems with stress and confidence, be mindful of your breathing as much as you can. Talk with someone about how to breathe properly. Do some acting classes; they’re really great for learning about how to project, which you need to breathe properly for.

If you’re still getting into the habit of breathing properly, you might feel sore around your back, the bottom of your chest and even your hips, especially if your posture hasn’t been the best. Always check with a health care professional first, but they may just be signs that your body is finally processing oxygen the way it’s meant to.

And while you’re at it:

Chest out, shoulders back, gut in, hips back and stand straight, soldier.

Are you curious?

What’s a basic skill or habit you’ve needed to learn?

If you’ve been in the military, what were the most important things you learned in basic training?

Featured image by Benjamin Faske; sourced from the expertinfantry Flickr stream