“Hey, just take a breath.”  No doubt you have encountered this comment from a well-intentioned friend or family member. Or perhaps you have uttered this to someone yourself?

Either way, no doubt this comment doesn’t often elicit the desired response. But what if it was a genuine gesture of care taking?

Honestly, let’s look at what is really being asked of us.  Because we each CAN actually take responsibility to more fully engage in our breath experience every day. And guess what? This could be a secret to increasing our vitality as we age.

What I’m talking about is something called “vital capacity” or VC. Simply put, the vital capacity (VC) of our lungs is vital to our health.  Interestingly, when observed it is not the measurement of the total capacity of our lungs that is important, but rather the total amount of air we can inhale once we have exhaled fully. 

So, our discipline and focus is best spent on the quality and depth of our EXHALE and not our INHALE.  Why? Anatomically, as we move into our 50s and beyond, our rib cage tends to become permanently elevated, our ribs more horizontal (“flatter”), and our rib cage region becomes stiffer.  In effect, we get stuck in the “inhalation” position. ) 

We can practice some simple techniques to first observe our breath and then increase our VC.

Why not give this a try right now?

First. Observe the breath moving in your body using your two hands. 

Put one hand on your front lower rib cage and one hand on your chest. Just notice the breath moving in these two areas beneath your hands.

Second amplify the breath beginning with the exhale.

 On the exhale, accentuate the breath into the hand placed on the lower ribcage.

On the inhale, expand your breath into your hand around your heart space as well, as the hand on your ribcage.

Do this several times until you make some gentle observations about your breath. 

Did you notice that if you participate more fully in your exhales that your inhales are fuller and richer?   

Did you notice a sense of slowing down any anxious emotions or thoughts?

I believe that if you take a few minutes (or longer) every day to practice this technique and put the focus of your attention on expanding your exhales, you will increase your VC vitality, as well as toning the muscles and fascia around your ribcage, to allow for a greater overall breathing experience.

This is simply an introduction to the concept of VC, that no doubt has lots of scientific studies and theories. 

From my perspective, I feel that by “owning” our breath experience we can not only increase our essential vitality, but we can step into vital care-taking of the most alive versions of ourselves.

SUNSET SEA FOAM BUBBLES IN SANTA CRUZ, CA. JANUARY 2019

This article is excerpted from Your Spine, Your Yoga—Developing stability and mobility for your spine by Bernie Clark.