We tend to take breathing for granted; we do it unconsciously and without thought. Deep, mindful breathing, however, is a simple action that can provide tremendous benefit. It can help relieve stress, lower blood pressure and aid in digestion.
When most people breathe, they do so from their chest. Further, when we feel stressed, our breath tends to become shallow, limiting our oxygen intake, making us feel even more tense, and anxious. Deep breathing accesses your diaphragm or abdomen along with your lungs. Using these deeper muscles sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. That message is then sent on to your body, ultimately decreasing heart rate, slowing your breathing patterns, and reducing blood pressure.
When we don’t breathe deeply, we are more susceptible to developing tension headaches because we use our neck and shoulders to lift our rib cage and expand our chest. On the other hand, deep breathing keeps these muscles relaxed, warding off the potential onset of unwanted tension and tightness.
Finally, because deep breathing utilizes our abdominal muscles and diaphragm, it has a massaging affect on our abdominal organs. This in turn can aid in digestion and facilitate regularity.
|Level of Breath||Amount of Air Breathed||Impact on Body|
|Chest||About 1 teacup of oxygen||Chest breathing makes your brain create shorter, more restless brain waves.|
|Abdomen / Diaphragm||About 1 quart of oxygen||Abdominal breathing makes your brain create longer, slower brain waves, similar to the ones your brain makes when you are relaxed and calm.|
With its focus on full, cleansing breaths powered by the diaphragm, deep breathing can help you get your stress levels in check. The next time you feel uptight, try taking a minute to slow down and breathe deeply. Here is a step by step guide to basic deep breathing:
- Sit comfortably with your back straight. Indian-style is often a position used.
- Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
- Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
- Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting (bringing into your spine) your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
- Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls.
- Count slowly as you exhale.
- To ensure you are controlling your breath and maximizing your lung capacity, start by counting to one on your first inhalation and then count for 1 second on the exhale. Next cycle of breaths count for two seconds for the inhale and then two seconds on the exhale. Work your way up to a 10 second inhale and 10 second exhale.
If you have a hard time breathing from your abdomen sitting up, lie on the floor, put a small book on your stomach, and try to breathe so that the book rises as you inhale and falls as you exhale. Breathing techniques can be practiced almost anywhere and can be combined with other relaxation exercises.
Adapted from 52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier You. Make real, lasting change with this easy to follow, week-by-week guide to healthy change. Get it now at Amazon.com.