How to Breathe Properly

Tiffany Hicks
April 23, 2020
5 min read

It is estimated that 90% of people are breathing at only 50% capacity – that means a lot of us are not getting proper oxygenation and blood flow. Improper and shallow breathing is linked with a whole array of health issues like elevated levels of stress and anxiety, a weaker immune system, increased fatigue, respiratory problems, a tight neck and shoulders, and cardiovascular issues. But, have no worries, we are here to teach you how to breathe right!

Horizontal vs. Vertical Breathing

Similar to how our innocence fades as we age, our breathing habits begin pure and conducive for optimal health until the stress and responsibilities of life take their toll on our bodies. Breathing instructor, Dr. Belisa Vranich, refers to this visually subtle yet physiologically profound change as a transition from horizontal breathing to vertical breathing. Vertical breathing causes your shoulders and chest to rise toward your chin with inhalation, which most likely describes how you are currently breathing, whereas horizontal breathing causes your ribs to expand away from your midline with inhalation.

Vertical breathing

Vertical breathing causes your body to breathe inadequately because it does not utilize your diaphragm. In fact, it keeps your diaphragm rather stagnant while breathing resulting in back pain, digestive issues, high blood pressure, and overall stress on your body. Needless to say, these conditions affect other areas of your health such as the availability of oxygen to your brain, heart, and lungs, along with your posture and even the way you walk and talk!

Other harmful effects of vertical breathing include:

  • Increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Reduced cognition
  • Mood swings
  • Weight gain
  • Limited focus

Horizontal breathing

Horizontal breathing may sound more involved because it engages your diaphragm, but just remember that it comes completely natural to your body. Try this exercise 3 to 4 times a day for 5 to 10 minutes per session to get your body adjusted to diaphragmatic breathing:

  • Lie on your back with your legs positioned comfortably whether straight, elevated on a pillow, or bent
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your abdomen
  • Keeping your shoulder blades in contact with the floor, allow your chest to open as you inhale slowly
  • You should feel your abdomen pressing up against your hand while your chest should remain still under your other hand
  • While tightening your abdomen, exhale as evenly as possible, and feel your abdomen slightly pull away from your hand

As this exercise becomes easier for you, you can increase the time or do it in an upright position supported by a wall or chair. Over time, eliminate the support and practice horizontal breathing with strength exercises, like bridges and planks. And before you know it, horizontal breathing will feel as natural to you as nature intended.

For free guided breathing exercises that you can take anywhere, try out the Breathwrk app here and enjoy a FREE 7-day trial with access to everything we have to offer!


Kilbane, B. (2018, March 21). You’re breathing all wrong: Here’s how to do it right.

Kin, F., Parthasathlyj, Sirrangjani, P., Taylor, S. J., Pucci, D., Hendrix, R. W., & Makhsous, M. (2006). Effect of different sitting postures on lung capacity, expiratory flow, and lumbar lordosis. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 87: 504-9.

Thibodeaux, W. (2018, February 8). Science says you've been breathing all wrong.

Tiffany Hicks