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!
The reality though, is, we don't do that. When we are younger we often have a tendency to overindulge, be it with alcohol, maybe a few drugs, smoking or just good old riotous living. But as we get older, for the most part, we often just change the indulgences, for example, food or maybe a more sedentary lifestyle.
Then comes the day that we realize that if things carry on the way they are; we are heading to an early grave, hopefully, if fate has smiled upon us, in time to do something about it! It's as if the cogs and gears of our brain suddenly align with the stars and create a paradigm shift in our thinking. We excitedly tighten the reigns, go on a diet, join a gym and, finally, get sensible about our lifestyle. And, in some cases, start to lecture others about their poor lifestyle choices; you know, the way ex-smokers often rebuke smokers!!!
Having travelled down much of this self-indulgent pathway myself, it ultimately led me to become a therapist and for the past 20 plus years I have dedicated a good portion of my life to the study of human psychology, the brain and its functional performance; i.e. why do we do the things we do?
In that period, perhaps, one of the most important things I discovered and one which is almost universally ignored (unless part of anxiety management training), is (deep) diaphragmatic breathing. But I also discovered that using the diaphragm to breathe, doesn't always have to be deep to be effective. However, universally speaking, to live life effectively, both psychologically and physiologically speaking, every breath should be diaphragmatic!
In my experience so few people that I meet actually breathe properly, yet, despite its importance, it is something that is not widely taught; but it 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! For sure when we are born we do it properly (we had no choice), you only have to look at a baby to know that, their little tummy is going up and down at a rate of knots; that's the diaphragm working its magic.
In my therapy I always ask a client 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 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 defence system will take care of our survival needs and by being mindful of this natural intervention system, 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 deep, 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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