Diaphragmatic breathing in a nutshell
If one could live by a mantra, it should be: "do the right thing, the right way, every day" - that way, all things being equal, you will live a long and happy life!
Breathing is one of those automatic processes that we take for granted and, at its most basic, the agenda is to keep you alive. If it was anything beyond that, there'd be no need for anyone to say to you; "calm down, take a deep breath," it would happen automatically but, as you know, it doesn't do that! So, taking that deep breath is voluntary. Universally speaking, anywhere in the world, they know this, that deep breathing and relaxation go together like coffee and cream or a Big Mac and french fries. So, if you want a more calming and peaceful experience of life, you need to be the one that initiates the process of deeper breathing and you'd be amazed how much breathing properly helps you to manage your emotional states. But . . . there are many things in life that you know, things that you know are good or bad for you, e.g. an apple a day keeps the doctor away, or, a cigarette a day helps you pass away! The question is though, is, if you know that an apple a day is good for your health, then why don't you eat one? Similarly, if you know a cigarette a day helps you pass away (assuming you may smoke), then why would you smoke? Of course, it's not what you know that makes the difference to your life; it's what you do about what you know; that's what makes the difference!
I came to be a therapist, from having my own therapy and my first foray into the world of therapeutic interventions was through anxiety management. However, I was taught to breathe, deeper, diaphragmatically, reactively, that is, if I felt anxious, I was to take a deep breath and, to varying degrees, it worked more often than it didn't. My next exposure to deep breathing came during my training to becomes a Clinical Hypno-Psychotherapist. This time though, I decided to make it proactive, why wait to become anxious, maybe breathing deeply ahead of the anxiety, could prevent or lessen the anxiety? It seems, unwittingly, I was onto something significant because the links between wellness and unwellness, crucially at some level, involve breathing. This is not only in the context of providing us with life-giving oxygen but also, in maintaining the correct balance of CO2, which balances our Ph levels. In order for us to be well, generally speaking, we need the right balance of these body gases and, from where we are neither too acidic or too alkaline. So, balance is key, both physically and psychologically.
However, be assured, your brain will usually work efficiently to keep you well balanced, it keeps you alive, it helps you survive but is that all you want to do; survive? Of course not, you want to thrive but how do you do that? Well, there is no one thing that you can do that will make that happen, it's a combination of many things and in the context of this article, Abraham Maslow gave us a powerful insight into the dynamics of that process with his Hierarchy of Needs. And, number one on that list, was "air!" The fundamentals of life, the absolute musts, are first and foremost, air, water (liquids) and food. Get those right and everything else's chances of optimization are immediately increased. But right here, we are going to concentrate on air and breathing; one step at a time OK?
It appears that of all the universities around the world, that study respiration, the consensus view is, that the majority of the world's population, do not breathe properly and that holds true from my experience too! In my experience, so few people that I meet actually know how to breathe properly. So, we know that deep breathing is connected to calmer states, we also know that anxiety is linked to faster, more rapid breathing. Yet, despite its importance, the benefits of and the reasons behind whey we need to breathe properly is not something that we are taught; but it really should be. The reason for my saying it should be widely taught is because it is estimated that upwards of 90% of all people, worldwide, are breathing incorrectly! But when we are born we do it properly (we had no choice), you only have to look at the way a baby breathes to know that, their little tummy is going up and down at a rate of knots; that's the diaphragm working its magic.
So, a fundamental step I take with all clients is to ask them to take a deep breath, and true to form they mostly puff up their chest, that's chest breathing. For sure if you chest breath you will survive but as I said above, we want to do more than just survive; we want to thrive; don't we? Real life and living are about thrival (my own word) not just survival! Our brain, i.e. (among other regions) the medulla oblongata and pons as well as our defence system will take care of both our everyday life and survival needs but mindfulness allows us to proactively intervene, to do what it takes to make us thrive! And by being mindful of this natural intervention system (conscious awareness), it allows us the opportunity to focus on the desire, if not need, to thrive!
So how do we start? Well essentially we need to re-learn to breathe properly and that can dramatically improve the quality of our life, both physiologically and psychologically, it does this by first promoting a healthy body and subsequently; can lead to a healthy mind. That said, there is actually more to this than meets the eye. All you need is an experienced guide to show you the way; that is why I offer a free consultation. For more details on claiming your Free Consultation, go here
Fact 1: Most of us either breathe almost exclusively in the chest or over-breathe (hyperventilate). This can be a little confusing as usually hyperventilation is thought of as very rapid breaths, causing or associated with signs of panic or nausea! However, what I mean is simply taking too many breaths per minute, e.g. 20 +.
Universally speaking it is believed that more than 90% of the world's population over breathe, i.e. take too many breaths per minute! Our respiratory system is aligned with the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system in the very same way the stress and relaxation responses are. When we slow down respiration, we involve the parasympathetic (NS), and this very same system is what is trying to induce the relaxation response when we are stressed (fight or flight mode).
That is why nearly all anxiety, anger and stress training programmes recommend diaphragmatic breathing. The problem though is, they only teach you to do it when you feel an anxious, angry or when a stressed event is looming. A little akin to closing the stable door, after the horse has bolted. This type of diaphragmatic breathing technique is, by its very nature, reactive and given the speed at which the defence system activates not always a great success. This is simply because it puts you behind the curve, The more progressive programmes are usually a little more proactive, in that they advise breathing properly periodically throughout the day, i.e. it aims to provoke the relaxation response within the parasympathetic nervous system!
However, the overall best way to breath is by being preemptive. Preemptive diaphragmatic breathing sets a baseline that makes it, in all but the most natural and urgent cases, much more difficult to become anxious, angry or stressed. We usually ascribe comments like, "she's so laid back, nothing seems to phase her," to people like this.
Functionally speaking, breathing diaphragmatically is actually the way we should breath; all the time. Not deep breaths every time but rather by, using the diaphragm, "all the time."
Fact 2: The bottom part of our lungs has approximately 3 times the airflow efficiency of the top third and whilst we will always breathe enough to survive; we may not be doing it in a way that allows us to thrive?
Here are some simple steps to help you learn to breathe in a more natural and normal way. A good normal rate of breathing is approx. 8 to 14 breaths per minute (the closer to 8 the better). However, if you have any known health issues or are taking medication, please consult your Dr. or other healthcare practitioners before attempting any such exercises.
Note: When I use the word deeply, I am referring to a method that allows the use of the whole of the lung, i.e. the air goes deep into the lungs. The benefit of this is that the deeper you go into the lungs the better the effect on O2, CO2 levels in the body. The correct balance of these gases is crucial to wellness and good health.
1. It is preferable to do this exercise in a room at a moderate temperature, aircon’ approx. 26° (tropical climate), or a well-ventilated room approx. 20° centigrade (non-tropical)
2. Create a relaxing atmosphere with soft lighting and music for relaxation, maybe even some scented candles?
3. Lie on your back and gradually begin to relax all of your muscles, but especially the chest, stomach and lower back muscles. The softer, the more relaxed these muscles are; the easier it becomes to breathe even deeper!
4. Place one hand on your abdomen (just above the belly button) and the other so that your fingers rest on one side of your lower rib cage (this allows you to observe how your stomach and lower chest respond to the movement of your diaphragm)
5. With relaxed muscles, now take in a breath of air through the nose (if you can), feel that breath go deep into your lungs and feel the abdominals and the lower rib cage expand. Because your muscles are relaxed the diaphragm moves down pressing against the abdominal cavity, this causes the abdominal organs to distend and the belly to rise.
6. Breath out through the nose, by keeping your mouth shut this assists with Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide gas exchange (use your mouth to eat, drink, brush and floss your teeth and occasionally to talk)
7. Breath at a rate of 8 to 14 breaths per minute, repeat this for approx. ten minutes
8. Do this exercise at least once but preferably two to three times a day with the objective of making this the norm. Eventually doing it lying down, standing or sitting. Practice makes perfect and it will soon become the normal way for you to breathe. It will also make it easier to fit into your daily routine. You do have time to breathe, right?
The point of this exercise is that it helps to restore and maintain the body's homeostasis, balance and equilibrium.
And it's worth noting this. it is possible that it not so much that deep breathing makes us calm and relaxed, as it is that shallow, rapid chest breathing makes us stressed and anxious? So, in this context, using the diaphragm restores calm, peaceful feelings of relaxation, instead of creating them! The diaphragm also acts as a pump for our lymphatic system and this is a vital part of our wellness system.
Using the diaphragm to breathe is the most universally taught method to lessen the effects of anxiety or panic; but this is a reactive response and often it is too late for it to be highly effective, at least in the moment! Learning to re-establish this natural method allows us to be more relaxed and therefore more resistant to unnecessary and unwanted stress and anxiety.
NOTE: Continue this exercise and slowly adopt it into your everyday life. When you breathe this way your whole body will benefit and work better and stay that way. However, whilst no guarantee can be offered with regard to any existing condition, it is probable that doing it this way will assist in recovery and create a more responsive immune system.
The three essential components of life are Air (respiration), Liquids (drinking) and Food (eating); in that order! So, when we Breathe properly, Drink properly and Eat properly we give our system everything it needs to perform and function well. . . . . It makes sense; doesn't it?
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