Breathing for Stress Reduction: Part 1

Breathing for Stress Reduction: Part 1

Understand and Activate Your Diaphragm

Okay.  Before you read this post, I’d like you to slowly inhale, hold your breath for a few seconds and slowly exhale. 

One full breath.  In and out. 

A healthy adult takes approximately 20,000 breaths a day.  An astounding number.  For most of us, breathing is something we are only barely aware of, despite the fact that it is central to every part of our being and has been a non stop activity from the day that we are born. 

Being mindful of every breath has been a core principle of meditation and religious practices for thousands of years.  These ancient traditions believe that focused, controlled breathing is fundamental to the health and well being of an individual’s body and mind.  And, more recently, scientific studies suggest that the practice of controlled breathing can have a remarkable affect on our overall health. 

Bringing proper attention to your breath can:

  • Lower and have an positive effect on our heart rate
  • Increase the oxygen flow to our brain
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Help reduce depression

And, perhaps most importantly, focusing on your breath can have a positive and lasting effect on managing stress levels in your body.   

Chest vs. Diaphragmatic Breathing

The key to achieving these health benefits is to understand the difference between Chest and Diaphragmatic breathing.  Too often, we engage in Chest breathing or ‘shallow’ breathing.  This type of breathing draws minimal breath from the upper chest rather than completely engaging the lungs and diaphragm. Chest breathing is a common reaction to anxiety or stressful situations.  Over an extended period of time, it can put excess strain on your neck or shoulder muscles and contribute to a feeling of stress.

Diaphragmatic breathing, also referred to as ‘deep’, abdominal or belly breathing, is the most productive and beneficial type of breath. It engages the diaphragm, the dome shaped muscle that sits just below the lungs and the chest, and abdominal cavity to maximize the flow of oxygen in and out of the body. On the inhalation the diaphragm contracts, raising the ribs to expand the chest and optimize the flow of oxygen into the lungs. This action compresses the abdomen. On the exhalation the diaphragm relaxes and the abdominal cavity flattens. This action powers the emptying of the lungs, resulting in slower, deeper breathing. 

Basic Diaphragm Breathing

  1.  Lie flat on the floor with your knees bent. Place a pillow under the knees for additional support.
  2. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your stomach over the navel.
  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose so your stomach expands against your hand.   The hand on your chest should not move.  The objective is to have the hand over your belly rise first when you breathe in.
  4. Pause for 2-3 seconds and then slowly exhale through your nose or pursed lips.  Your stomach should deflate to its original position. Allow the air to naturally flow in again.  
  5. Slowly and calmly repeat this cycle for 5 to 10 minutes.  As you become more comfortable with the technique, you should be able to practice this sitting or standing up.

Learning to concentrate on your breath properly is an easy way to care for your health. Just a few minutes of focused breathwork per day can have a profound impact on your wellbeing. Once you feel comfortable with diaphragmatic breathing we invite you to explore other, more advanced breathing techniques. Part 2 of our series on breathwork dives into 4 new exercises, all of which aim to reduce stress, balance body and mind and restore a sense of calm. Explore them with curiosity and patience, we guarantee it will make a difference!

Sources