When our bodies experience stress, a common and unconscious physical reaction is to tense our shoulders, chests, impeding our ability to breathe deeply and normally, resulting in very short, shallow breaths. Sometimes, we even hold our breaths and “forget” to breathe without realising it!
When this happens, our organs do not get enough well-oxygenated blood, heightening fatigue, dulling our response time and sharpness of mind – all annoyingly counterproductive effects especially when we have work to do and problems to solve. The solution is to learn to breathe properly, well, and deeply – a technique called Diaphragmatic Breathing.
What is Diaphragmatic Breathing? The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle spanning at the base of the lungs, and is the most efficient muscle for breathing. Diaphragmatic Breathing is a simple breathing technique that engages the diaphragm in expansion and contraction, filling the lungs with air intentionally and generously to effectively oxygenate the whole body, regulating the limbic system and relaxing major muscles.
Why Is It Beneficial? Diaphragmatic Breathing strengthens the diaphragm, making breathing less work for the body. It can also help to negate harmful effects of stress hormones, lower heart rates and blood pressure, and relax muscles by delivering more oxygen throughout the body.
How Do I Breathe Using My Diaphragm?
- Relax your shoulders away from your ears. You can be laying down with your head and knees supported, or sitting comfortably.
- Take a deep slow breath in through your nose while counting to 3, then exhaling slowly and fully through your nose for 4 seconds. Take your time to repeat this breath. A normal rhythm ranges from 6 to 10 times within one minute.
- You can also add in a mantra as you inhale and exhale to bring calmness, energy or intention to your mind. An example of this is to think the following as you breathe, “Breathe in love and gratitude, and breathe out tension and anxiety.”
- Repeat for 2 to 3 minutes, then breathe normally and notice how your body feels different from when you started.
The best way to ensure you are employing diaphragmatic breathing is to place your hands on either side surrounding your rib cage. You should feel your ribs move out at the front, side and back, like a balloon expanding. It is normal for your stomach to also rise and fall gently with the breath.
Always breathe in and out through your nose. Breathing through the mouth can sometimes promote hyperventilation, dry out the mouth, and increase heart rate and blood pressure. Our noses are also naturally designed to filter foreign particles in the air through our nasal hair for cleaner input for the lungs.
When Should I Practice This? You can practice Diaphragmatic Breathing when you are feeling symptoms of stress such as anxiety, shortness of breath and tightening of the shoulders and torso. It is also healthy and beneficial to take 2-3 minutes of Diaphragmatic Breathing in the morning and/or evening, giving the body time to wake up or wind down.
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